By Chris Harris

Arsène Wenger would never have predicted that Robin van Persie would captain Arsenal on the evidence of his early days with the Club.

The Dutchman arrived at Highbury in May 2004 as a talented but raw 20-year-old and has blossomed into one of the world's finest strikers, scoring 33 goals in 32 Premier League appearances in this calendar year.

Van Persie succeeded Cesc Fabregas as skipper when the Spaniard left for Barcelona in the summer and appears to relish the extra responsibility. Wenger likes what he has seen on and off the pitch.

"For me Robin is a great leader," said the manager. "You would not have predicted that [at the start], that's credit to him.

"If you had asked me seven or eight years ago I would not have predicted that he would become captain of Arsenal Football Club. That's credit to him. His evolution has been outstanding, not only as a human being but as a player too."

At 28, Van Persie offers experience as well as maturity and talent. And Wenger believes he is one of many leaders in a new-look Arsenal squad.

"We are a team who are more mature in our behaviour because the age is higher," he said. "The players we have brought in like Arteta, Mertesacker, Benayoun, Park and Santos are all between 25 and 30 - they are men.

"Don't forget Rosicky is captain of the Czech Republic, Arshavin is captain of Russia, Mertesacker captain of Germany sometimes, Ramsey is captain of Wales, Vermaelen, Park as well… who is not a captain?

"There is a good, good spirit there. I am sure we will give absolutely 100 per cent and the game on Sunday will show how far we can go. I'm sure this group will fight to go as far as they can."

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17 Dec 2011