There’s nothing football fans love more than talking about counterfactuals, or in other words: ‘what ifs’; and, on the whole, it’s a waste of time. What if Redknapp was manager of England? What if the national squad wasn’t made up of egotistical cretins with as much patriotism as a Cold War double agent? But, just occasionally, there are points worth considering. For example: if the variable in question was avoidable, rather than just a whimpering lament for different circumstances, then there is genuine cause for debate.
Take for example Arsenal’s much deliberated trophy-less period. A time when for Gunners fans there seemed to be more chance of eunuchs impregnating women than there did of Arsenal bagging some silverware. But then again, have they really been so far away? Indeed I can think of a number of times when Arsenal were right on the verge of success and just lacked some small catalyst to spur them on. The obvious thing to suggest therefore was that perhaps that catalyst could have been the injury prone talisman Robin Van Persie.
The in form striker has now scored twenty-four goals in twenty-six games in 2011 to go with a host of assists. And that doesn’t include his goals for Holland. But over the course of his last contract he has endured numerous lengthy spells on the sidelines. So If we look back at the times when Arsenal have come close to success in the last six years what can we conclude?
2007 League Cup Final
Arsenal’s inexperienced side were edged out 2-1 in a close encounter with Mourinho’s Chelsea. Van Persie had broken his fifth metatarsal whilst celebrating a late equaliser against Man Utd earlier in the season and subsequently missed most of the 2006/07 season including the League Cup final, although he still finished the season as Arsenal’s top scorer. The season hampered by the loss of their then top scorer and many were left wondering about what could have been.
I haven’t seen a better chance for Arsenal to win the title since 2004. They lead the league for various periods of the year were it not for a catastrophic end to the season in which they drew numerous games in succession after the horror of Eduardo’s broken leg incident they surely would have taken the title. But despite their fatal collapse Arsenal only finished four points off the top. And if you consider that Van Persie was fit for perhaps only a third of the season, maybe less, then you wonder whether he would not have won them the league had he been fit. Before his knee injury whilst on international duty Van Persie had scored seven goals in his first ten games. You would hope that a world-class striker would win you at least two games per season on his own. Those points would have been more than enough to take first place.
Arsenal seemed to have finally turned a corner last year. Until the League Cup final fiasco they were going strong in every available competition. Obviously Van Persie was actually available for some of the second half of the season but again he was absent for much of it. He spent the first half of the season out after again sustaining an injury on international duty and injured himself in the League cup final. The result was that after getting Arsenal’s equaliser in the final he then had to be subbed on and replaced by the impotent Chamakh. This caused him to miss a further three weeks at a crucial stage of the season. Moreover, arguably Arsenal would have won the League Cup last year had he not been forced off and considering Arsenal’s temperamental mental strength who knows what could have happened had they won that day against Birmingham? Many believe, myself included, that it would have given the Arsenal players a new lease of life and given them the confidence to chase down the League title too. However, Van Persie was taken off, Arsenal lost the final and went on to only win three of their remaining games in all competitions. One of those was against Leyton Orient.
I wouldn’t be as presumptuous to say that had Van Persie been fit over the last few years Arsenal would definitely have won a haul of trophies. To say that would be to deny the other obvious flaws within the team: the leaky defence, goalkeeper problems, poor mentality etc. However it’s pretty clear that Van Persie is good enough to carry a team with those problems, he’s doing it pretty well this year and this is arguably Wenger’s weakest Arsenal squad.
Ultimately it’s not much consolation for Arsenal fans to know that he could have made the difference over the past six years but where this is important is for the critics out there saying that Wenger has lost it or that Arsenal have been rubbish since Vieira left. The fact is that they have had an appalling injury record over the last few years and always to their best players: Vermaelen repeatedly, Van Persie repeatedly, Fabregas repeatedly, Eduardo, Ramsey, Walcott, Rosicky, Diaby, Clichy and now Wilshere. They have all spent a ridiculous amount of time nursing injuries and many of the players never came back the same (for example: Rosicky, Eduardo). Van Persie’s record year in year out speaks for itself there is definitely grounds for the argument that had he not spent the best part of two years out over the last five then things could have been different.
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