If there is one image that defines the revival that Arsenal are about to embark on, it’s this one:
There were many positives to take from our dispatching of Bolton Wanderers on Saturday but, for me, this was the one that really counted.
Robin van Persie, mobbed by a herd of Bolton spongiforms, didn’t give an inch. When they mooed in his face he bellowed back at them; when they jostled him he put out his arms as if to say: “Yeah? And what?” He stood his ground. He faced down the bullocks with a show of real bollocks.
If anyone doubted whether Robin was the man to lead this team, that moment should put their mind at ease.
For Alan Hansen to subsequently criticise him on Match of the Day for not ‘leading by example’ and not being captain material tells you a lot more about Hansen than about van Persie. And it also tells you that he probably watched no more of our game than the brief highlights that were shown on MoTD.
Devout Christians sometimes use the question “what would Jesus do?” as a method to guide their actions.
At Arsenal we used to have a Jesus. His name was Cesc Fabregas. And if you ask what Cesc/Jesus would have done in that scenario, I offer the following speculation:
1) The scenario would not have happened in the first place because Cesc/Jesus, seeing a Wanderers player poleaxed in the box, would have put the ball into touch.
2) But if it had happened, and Cesc/Jesus was mobbed by a thousand pounds of Bolton beef, he would have backed off and walked away.
I’m not saying that either course of action by Cesc/Jesus is wrong. But Robin’s actions were those of a warrior. And by heaven, we have needed a warrior of late.
It may mean that Cesc is a nicer and more sporting person, but it also means that Robin is more of a fighter, someone who would rather be the winning guy than the nice guy.
To continue the religious analogy, if Cesc was Jesus, Robin is the Archangel Michael – the field commander of God’s armies in the war against the devil, with the title “Prince of Angels”.
Prince Robin. That will do for me and that is how I will refer to him from now on.
You may think I’m reading too much into one brief incident, but sometimes fortunes in football hinge on such intangibles. We all talk about confidence, desire, mental strength, morale – well, they are influenced by moments like this.
Prince Robin acted the way a Keown or a Vieira would have done. He handled it probably even better than his compatriot Dennis would have (I suspect Dennis might have chinned one of the cow-faces and got himself red carded).
But Prince Robin kept his arms down and spread wide in a gesture that both ridiculed the ox-minded simpletons of Bolton and ensured that the ref could not accuse him of violent conduct (Gervinho and Diaby, please take note).
He refused to be intimidated.
It’s this kind of leadership that is essential to helping us regain our status as one of the top teams in the country, capable of competing in all competitions and making our opponents believe that we are no pushover.
Cesc was a brilliant player – one of the best midfielders I have ever seen. But he was not a captain. Nor was Gallas and nor was Thierry Henry for all his gifts.
Arsene Wenger thinks we Brits place too much emphasis on the role of captain, but he’s wrong. A real leader on the field can make the crucial difference at the margins between success and failure.
And I really believe that Prince Robin is a leader. His public utterances of late have carried the weight and maturity of someone who knows he is in charge. He supports his team mates but is not afraid to remind them about what’s expected of them. He does not try to say everything in the garden is rosy – but he also refuses to accept that it’s all manure.
Quite possibly it is only his appalling luck with injuries that has stopped van Persie from becoming captain much earlier in his Arsenal career.
Having a striker as captain is not necessarily ideal, but there have been some outstanding srtiker-captains in the past (Shearer, Rummenigge, Maradona to name but three). And our No 10 is really showing leadership on and off the field.
This new Arsenal team is beginning to take shape. There is much to improve on and I don’t expect to see our best until the second half of the season. But the pieces are beginning to fall into place.
And no piece is more important than our new captain.
Prince Robin, I’m your man.