By Chris Harris
Robin van Persie would be considered a world great had he stayed fit this season, according to Arsène Wenger.
The Arsenal manager made that bold declaration as he prepared to welcome the Dutch forward back into his squad for Wednesday's North London derby at Tottenham after a five-month lay-off.
Van Persie took time to acclimatise to his new centre-forward role at the start of the campaign but he clicked in September and had scored eight goals in 11 games before being cut off in his prime by injury in November.
The exploits of Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney have lit up the 2009/10 campaign in Van Persie's absence but Wenger insists that the 26-year-old can be just as effective as that exalted duo - if only he had stayed fit to continue his flying start to the season.
"That is the biggest frustration because he had started to compete as one of the best players in the world and suddenly he was out," said Wenger.
"You would have talked about Van Persie [like Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo], of that I am sure. Of course.
"Robin is a leader because he has a football brain and is a football thinker. All his vibes are in the game. He is a winner and he has matured a lot in the last three or four years as well."
Van Persie suffered ankle ligament damage while playing for Holland in an international friendly but he now looks on course to represent his country at this summer's World Cup. Given Van Persie's misfortune in November, does that worry Wenger?
"I got slaughtered because I played William Gallas in the Quarter-Final of the Champions League and we have lost Robin in a friendly game for the whole season. What can you do about that?" replied Wenger.
"What is important is that we get him back and I believe that we can have a go until the end of the season and hopefully have a big challenge next year."