Wayne Rooney, after a poor World Cup in South Africa, publicly announced that he wanted to leave Manchester United in October of 2010. After a brilliantly done press conference by Sir Alex Ferguson, he signed a new contract for 5 more years. Sir Alex, if he feels a player is a problem and may cause a disruption in the team, immediately axes him no matter how big a star he is. Over the years, we have seen Beckham, Nistelrooy, Keane, Staam et al leave Manchester United due to non-footballing reasons. But Rooney’s case was different, this United team was one of the weakest that Ferguson had, but still it managed to challenge for trophies as before. And it was/is able to do so because of Rooney’s ability to shoulder the burden of more than a single job. He is both a creator and a scorer. He plays both as number 10 and scores goals like a number 9 and thus, Ferguson knew that without Rooney, this United team will find it difficult to compete at the highest level.
Fast forward 20 months and Robin Van Persie’s case with Arsenal is along the same lines. After Fabregas left for Barcelona, Robin shouldered some of Arsenal's creative responsibility too. In 2009, RVP was playing as a false 9, dropping deep and allowing players like Eduardo to take up more attacking positions. But last season, with Walcott and Gervinho on the wings,Van Persie’s role was slightly different. He was the focal point in Arsenal’s attack, whenever he had the ball in an area away from the box, he looked to the wings to pick out Walcott or Gervinho. And when the ball arrived in the penalty box, he was there to finish it. This exactly doesn’t fit the description of a False 9, maybe you can call it a nine and a half. Essentially he is a number 9,but shoulders some creative responsibility too.
Van Persie’s movement is a vital cog in his ability to create space for himself and more importantly for his teammates. His knack of losing defenders and markers is under-rated. He always drops off defenders to find space and he doesn’t mind if he has to go wide or drop deep. The problem for defenders (especially last year) is his lethal finishing. He scored goals from all kinds of angles and positions. With a left foot like his, it is understandable that he values space than position. This quality of his, makes the job of his midfield partners much easier (i.e to find him).
When Arsenal lose the ball, they look to Van Persie to intiate the pressing. In fact, Van Persie is one of the leading players when it comes to distance covered per game in the Premier League. You generally expect a full back or a winger to have a high distance covered/match, certainly not a striker. Also, Alex Song’s lofted balls to Van Persie have given a different dimension to Arsenal’s attack. Song’s new found creative ability certainly has to credit to his understanding with Robin.
So where do Arsenal go after Van Persie? They still have very good players and for the first time in many years, their defense looks solid. But with Chelsea spending and change of guard at both White Hart Lane and Anfield will make it more tougher for the Gunners to finish in the top 4 next season. Last season Arsenal had more of it’s attacks down the wings and if they want to continue that mode of attack, they have to look to their midfield to provide the wide long balls. You can’t expect someone like Giroud to come into the Premier League and do what Van Persie has been doing. In Jack Wilshere, they have a player who they can build the team around and the best man for the job is Arsene Wenger, who has done it so often in the past.