It's time to announce the Arsenal.com Player of the Season - as voted for by the fans. And the winner is… Robin van Persie.
The captain enjoyed the first injury-free season of his Gunners career and emerged as the PFA and FWA Player of the Year.
Robin received a huge 77.7 per cent of the votes in our poll. Here, Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the dynamic Dutchman.
As a barometer of success, being described as a “great” by Dennis Bergkamp is a pretty good indicator of just how impressive you have been. But then Bergkamp is just one of a number of former and current Gunners who have felt moved to pay tribute to a regal Robin van Persie this season.
Andre Santos says his captain is on a level with Brazilian great Ronaldo, Ray Parlour believes he is “right up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best in the world”, while Theo Walcott claims he can emulate Thierry Henry and become a Club legend.
King Henry himself is in no doubt of the majesty of Van Persie. “What can I say about Robin?” he said. “I saw him come in here and at the very beginning he wasn't the easiest guy to deal with, like I wasn't I guess. But it's amazing to see how he has improved. I'm just in admiration. What he is doing now, in terms of not just goals but ratio of goals, apart from Ronaldo and Messi, is ridiculous.”
The stats tell their own story: 37 goals, 13 assists, PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, winner of the Golden Boot and now the Arsenal fans’ Player of the Season. This truly was the year Robin became football royalty.
The signs had been there in the previous campaign when he finished strongly with 18 goals in his last 17 league games. But considering his previous injury problems, not many would have expected a campaign in which he played in every Premier League match and started 37 of the 38. It was to make all the difference as he etched his name in history.
Awarding Robin the captaincy last summer proved to be another Wenger masterstroke. “He took his role seriously on and off the pitch and I think it added something to his determination as well,” the manager said. “That is why maybe his commitment was even stronger - because he feels more responsibility. He grew into this role. The best way to be a captain for me is to be a fantastic player; that is the best way to get respect in your team. He did that remarkably well.”
Arsenal’s opening-day draw at Newcastle was the first Premier League away game in which he had failed to score during 2011, but Robin was soon among the goals, notching against Udinese and Manchester United before the month was out. His brace against Bolton four weeks later saw him become the 17th Arsenal player to reach 100 goals for the Club, and he went on to score seven times during October alone.
He proved that he could deliver when his side needed him most, too. Against Sunderland he stepped up to curl home a late free kick to snatch the points, while his hat trick against Chelsea showed the world - and his team - that they truly were back after a difficult start to the campaign. His repertoire of tricks continued to dazzle, a deft right-footed dink at Norwich and a firm header against Borussia Dortmund demonstrating he had more than just a wand of a left foot.
Always a man for the big occasion, Robin scored the Goal of the Season in December as the Club celebrated its 125th anniversary against Everton. Considering the build-up - the statues, the legends in attendance, the pre-match celebrations - it was always going to require something special to grab the limelight. Robin delivered with a magnificent volley on the run to spark joyous scenes inside Emirates Stadium.
His exceptional goalscoring exploits were the one constant as the team’s results dropped off over Christmas and January. And when the season seemed to hang in the balance during the North London derby in February, it was the captain who restored parity with the most wonderful of curling efforts.
In the Gunners’ next game, at Liverpool, their revival would be tested to the fore once again. Robin scored with a header to get his side back on level terms, and then once again proved his gift for the dramatic by volleying home an Alex Song pass in the final moments to snatch the points.
By this point, the goals - like the assists, like the awards - just kept on coming. And while a dry spell towards the end of a long, testing season was to be expected, he again stepped up when his side needed him, bagging an equaliser at Stoke and a brace against Norwich to help his side claim third place.
“Yes [he has exceeded my expectations], not on the quality of his games though because I expect a lot from him,” Wenger admitted. “It is purely football technically. The way it goes beyond my level of expectation is the number of goals he has scored. Where he is sensational as well is as a captain. He has done extremely well on and off the field.”
It has been the season of Robin’s life, the season in which he fulfilled his vast potential and assumed his position as one of the world’s greatest players. And what a pleasure it has been to watch.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source