Robin Van Persie: Is There Still Room for the Dutchman to Improve?

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Robin Van Persie: Is There Still Room for the Dutchman to Improve?
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Robin van Persie may have only been Sir Alex Ferguson's third choice transfer target of the summer, but since making the controversial move from Arsenal in August, he has certainly proven the Scotsman's faith justified with effervescent displays and goals galore.

It may very well eventually be said that his £24 million transfer was a bargain to compare with the past signings of Eric Cantona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

If Manchester United have shown weakness this season, it has been in defence and midfield and not attack.

The Red Devils have slapped in a staggering 37 Premier League goals in only 15 games, with van Persie having scored 10 of those.

But are there aspects of the Dutchman's game that still need to adapt to the style of football played at Old Trafford?

The Arsenal way of doing things is far removed from that at United, and one can hardly expect a player, no matter how experienced they are, to immediately embed themselves into a new environment and way of thinking.

Led by Arsene Wenger, the Gunners have long been a side that prefer to play with the ball on the ground, typically deploying the more versatile attacking midfielders rather than traditional wingers.

Robin van Persie was never a prolific aerial striker at the Emirates, and even admitted himself last season that this was a part of his game he wanted to develop:

"I would like to score more [headers] but at least there has been some improvements in the last year. I have it in me. I know that and I show that but I want to do it more and really make it my weapon" (via Arsenal.com).

For those who recall the Dutchman's late game winner for United at Southampton earlier in the season, few could doubt that he has the ability to be that sort of player.

Manchester United play in such a way that the opposition penalty area is going to be bombarded with close to a dozen crosses a game—a system which any vertically qualified striker can thrive in.

There have been occasions, though, when the likes of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Rafael have swung in decent crosses from wide positions, and van Persie has not been able to consistently put himself in good enough positions to get on the end of them.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Rest assured, this is simply a technical aspect of his game that will no doubt be refined the more he plays in Sir Alex's system, and one can reasonably expect the Dutchman to bang in a few more goals with his head before the season's end.

In terms of finishing, sure, van Persie has missed the odd sitter—his glaring second half miss against Reading last weekend immediately comes to mind—but who hasn't?

There is no centre forward on the planet who is perfect, and seeing as he is averaging close to a goal for every four shots taken during a game, criticism in that respect would be entirely unwarranted.

His buildup play has been excellent—his teammates have quickly learned that it is better to play through him than around him.

The numbers however, do not necessarily reflect his impact on the side's creative verve this term.

It may surprise some to learn that van Persie averages only 29.1 passes a game, fewer than every Red Devil who has started more than six games this season.

His pass completion rate (81.7 percent) is also lower than any of his fellow outfield players' in the squad.

In addressing this, it must be said that numbers such as these must be taken with a grain of salt, and are by no means a fair reflection of his significant influence in attacking play.

While a player like Michael Carrick averages 90.1 passes a game at a completion rate of 89.4 percent, the holding midfielder usually plays the simple, sideways balls and only has one assist to his name this season to van Persie's four.

This has long been a key reason for treating passing statistics with caution—why defenders such as Rio Ferdinand (92.7 percent) and Jonny Evans (90.5 percent) lead the category.

Marouane Fellaini for instance, Everton's most important player and one of the best performers of the season so far, has only completed an average of 78.7 percent of his passes, while his teammate Phillip Neville has completed 89.5 percent.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Another deceptive statistic—the Dutchman has averaged only one attempted dribble every two games. But then taking on opposing defenders with the ball at his feet has never been a strong suit of his.

He is more the hub of the wheel than one of its spokes. He is a game-changer similar to the way Cristiano Ronaldo was before him.

Manchester United don't need him to make 50 passes a game, or dribble around more defenders than Ryan Giggs in his prime—this was not why Sir Alex signed off on his transfer.

It is not a matter of improving for United—he is already the finished product—but rather his continuing to adapt to new surroundings, new faces and fresh tactics.

The diamond formation for instance, is one that would have been completely foreign to him when it was first introduced, as it would for the whole squad. 

As Wayne Rooney thrives in his new-fangled attacking midfield role, the Dutchman's on-field relationship and familiarity with his fellow world-class teammate will soon reach an almost telepathic understanding.

Over time, the dynamic duo have the potential to be one of the most lethal one-two punches in the game today.

That can only mean good things for United fans.

(All statistics via WhoScored.com).

 

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