In the years that Arsene Wenger has been working his own brand of alchemy with Arsenal players, his list of bargain buys, and young players who he has developed, is one which is the envy of managers the world over.
A man who plays a vital role in shaping the careers of, amongst others, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas, Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, and at Monaco the legendary George Weah, deserves respect.
The fact that Arsenal's board refuse to interfere in the football side of the club is testament to their belief in his ability to not only spot talent, but to nurture it. But the work which Wenger does with his established players is equally effective, and continues to reap rewards for the club.
He is a man-manager of rare quality, whose unshakable belief in his team, and players, has led to criticism for his tendency to overlook incidents which indicate weakness in his team. These two qualities alone tend to cast Wenger more in the light of a father-figure of a coach, rather than a manager.
Indeed, when a player who left the club in acrimonious circumstances such as Emmanuel Adebayor can say, "I love Arsene Wenger, and I will always keep that love for Arsene - he is the person who made me what I am today,” it speaks volumes.
It is these skills which have once more come to the fore this season. Some of the club's shining lights have been players who Wenger himself has publicly backed time, and time again. The likes of Emmanuel Eboue, the tireless Alex Song, and captain Cesc Fabregas deserve acclaim, the real star has been a player in whom Wenger has invested much time and effort, Robin Van Persie.
Though he failed to score against Wolves, which would have equalled a club record of scoring in six straight games (held by Ian Wright), he was still pivotal in all Arsenal did. His movement was elusive, yet intelligent. His composure on the ball, as exemplified by the assist for Fabregas' goal, shows that Arsenal have a succinct playmaker high enough on the pitch to cause real harm to defenses.
When Adebayor left, Arsenal fans were left wondering whether Wenger would replace the Togolese with a figurehead striker of equal presence, but less incisiveness in Nicklas Bendtner, or choose to evolve the style of play to cover his absence. The results have vindicated his decision to opt for the latter.
Yet the remarkable thing about Van Persie is that his transformation has been so absolute. Wenger's belief in him has scarcely wavered, since he was signed for £2.75 million as a raw winger from Feyenoord, but the player himself has had some lessons to learn.
A hot-headed player, whose early performances were prone to glimpses of brilliance, but also a combustible nature, meant that Wenger's faith sometimes appeared misplaced—the talent was obvious, the temperament was lacking. Yet now, just as his team is maturing, so is Van Persie.
The combative nature is still there, yet maturity has definitely becalmed him—the rough edges have been knocked off this diamond. His focus is solely on the best way to use his talents, not his temper, and so much the better. That, combined with a sustained run of injury-free matches—which was so long an impediment to his progress—have been crucial to his evolution as the key figure in Arsenal's striking arsenal.
Suddenly the talk is of just how well he rates as a striker, not just in the Premier League, but in the world. His form was rewarded with the October Premier League player of the month award, and Wenger, as always, is a believer in his man.
He said, "He is the kind of player, with the type of game we play, who is vital because when you play the ball to his feet his first touch is always perfect and that allows others to join in.” Hailing him as a mixture of Thierry Henry, and Dennis Bergkamp, is some compliment.
Yet Wenger's voice is not a lone one. Ronald Koeman, whose Alkmaar side shipped four goals to a Van Persie inspired Arsenal admitted, "We know Robin has developed himself in a fantastic way over last few years. At the moment, he is our best Dutch player. He shows that every week with Arsenal."
Meanwhile, Bert van Maarjwik, the Netherlands manager who has mainly utilised Van Persie as a winger has admitted, "There's a big chance that Robin is going to play as a striker for Holland from now on as he's doing a fantastic job for Arsenal."
From hot headed youth to international hot shot, the transformation of Robin Van Persie deserves to go down as one of the finest works in Arsene Wenger's long list of achievements.
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