This morning brought what many will consider a pleasant surprise. Robin van Persie was photographed training with the squad and has been named in what is a 19 man squad to face Barcelona. This will, of course, have to be trimmed to 18 on the morning of the game, but for now it seems there is a chance the Dutchman will be fit to play some part in that game,
Normally, I’d be delighted to have Van Persie back for any game. As Arsenal fans, we’ve seen big players miss far too many important games, so to have someone of the calibre of the Dutch striker back for such a fixture has to be seen as a big positive.
In this particular instance though, I’m more worried than happy. It’s not an easy feeling to justify but that doesn’t change what I’m feeling.
I guess I’m just worried that the striker is being rushed back.
To be fair, Arsene has shown this season that he is being extra cautious with every player. The number of rotations and the way he has handled the return of Djourou, Walcott, and others, all highlight the fact that Wenger is more risk averse than ever before. It can be argued that Le Boss deserves the benefit of the doubt and will not rush RvP unless he is fully fit.
My feeling, and it’s important to stress that this is a feeling not an entirely rational thought, is that Arsene thinks this game is too big and any kind of a contribution from the striker can make a difference. I, on the other hand, feel that Arsenal’s performance in this game will not vary too much with or without the striker.
RvP is as his best in and around the opposition penalty box but Arsenal are not going to spend too much time there. There can be an argument that his delivery on set-pieces and the ability to finish half-chances will be crucial. My opinion is that most of the chances Arsenal get will be on counter attacks or set-pieces. Bendtner could be just as useful in either case.
I’d rather have a fully fit Van Persie for the run in to the Premiership title race than risk him in a game that is going to be a stiff challenge on the best of days. I’m convinced that if Fabregas and RvP stay fit for the rest of the season Arsenal will have a real shot at the League title. Without either one of them it will be touch and go, while missing both will make it more a function or luck than ability.
If it had been Walcott, I’d have accepted the benefits of taking a risk as Theo provides a unique threat that can be particularly lethal in such a game. But with Van Persie I don’t see that argument in the context of this tie.
Usually, I trust the manager and the players to get such decisions and their priorities right. In this case it would mean leaving RvP on the bench and bringing him on in the final fifteen minutes only if the game is realistically within reach and not if it’s level or out of reach.
However, I’m worried that Van Persie won’t be happy to sit out of such a game again and Arsene too might succumb to the temptation of starting his best players. It’s just that thought that is making me uncomfortable despite a seemingly positive injury update.