Despite the erratic performances from Arsenal this season, the Gunners were in a good position for making a run at some silverware.
Theo Walcott was a menace on the right wing, Robin van Persie was quickly becoming the most in-form striker in Europe and Cesc Fàbregas was showing why he is one of the top three playmakers in the world. After shocking the world and defeating Barcelona in the first leg of the Champion's League, the sentiment amongst Gooners all over the world was very positive.
Could there actually be light at the end of a tunnel? Less than two weeks after their epic victory, it appears that light may just be a train coming right at them in the form of injuries.
Just last week, in a crucial EPL match against Stoke City, the downward spiral begun to take form. Fàbregas was forced to leave the game early due to a hamstring problem and Theo Walcott went down due to a bad ankle sprain that will prevent him from playing in the most crucial two weeks of the season. At the minimum, Arsenal was victorious, but they paid the price.
Next came the Carling Cup Final. Without Cesc to lead the midfield and without the speedy Walcott terrorizing the right side of the pitch, Arsenal was unable to bring home their first bit of silverware for the season. To make matters worse, van Persie does the one thing he can do better than score amazing goals, he gets injured...again.
Now Arsenal is without their top striker for what will be the most critical ten days of the season. With Chelsea beating Manchester United on Tuesday, the Gunners are in a position to pull themselves within one point from first place if they defeat Sunderland this Saturday.
Just a few days later, they will have to go to the lion's den aka Camp Nou to possibly eliminate Barcelona from the Champion's League. After that game, Arsenal could face Manchester United in the FA Cup, should they get past Leyton Orient on Wednesday.
Knocking out Barcelona in the Champion's League and knocking out United from the FA Cup could put Arsenal in the driver's seat for some trophies, but now the season could possibly come to an end if Arsenal come home empty handed from both of those matches. With van Persie to miss these do-or-die games, it is very difficult to have faith in Arsenal in what has been a "Dr. Jeckyl - Mr. Hyde" like season.
Can Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner step up against a team that took two points from the Gunners earlier this year? Chamakh has admitted that he is burnt out and Bendtner has not established any sort of rhythm this year. Now is probably not the best time to rely on these two strikers. It is also a shame that Carlos Vela was not utilized properly this season. The Mexican was showing some promise early on this, but was kept on the bench and is now on loan for West Brom.
This all leads to the main question—how reliable is van Persie? In the 2006-07 season, he featured in 31 matches in all competitions; 2007-08: 23 matches; 2008-09: 44 matches; 2009-10: 20 matches and this year he has played in 21 of 45 total matches for Arsenal. How can a team that is competing for trophies in Europe and in England expect to win anything if their top striker has had one healthy season over the last few years?
What do the following scorers/strikers have in common: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto'o, Wayne Rooney, Diego Forlan, Sergio Agüero, Carlos Tévez and Luis Suárez...they are all reliable strikers that have consistently played in over 40 matches every year. Van Persie is not in this group of strikers and yet he is an integral part to what is supposed to be one of the best teams in England/Europe.
Sure, some of RVP's injuries have been from very harsh tackles and some unfortunate collisions, but when it happens every year, something must change. There must be a team out there who will dish out the cash for a striker of his quality. Arsenal can then use that cash and then some to get a striker who can withstand the physicalities of playing 40 games a year on a consistent basis. Fernando Llorente from Atletico Bilbao, Radamel Falcao from FC Porto and Edinson Cavani from Napoli, are three reliable strikers that could be worth splashing some cash.
Bottom line is that Robin van Persie simply cannot be relied upon by Arsenal if they want to escape that "close but no cigar" label. Perhaps Wenger should bring on a reliable striker and any game that van Persie plays in the future is simply a bonus.
While his skill will never be doubted by pundits, worldwide, his ability to play in 40 games a season must be on Wenger's mind if he wants to build a winning squad.