Since Robin van Persie last played at the beginning of November we haven`t exactly struggled for goals scoring a respectable 24 goals in the 13 PL games since. However, in the 11 games that RvP was available to us we managed to score a more remarkable 36 goals and it is that tally that still keeps us at the top of the PL scoring charts.
Of course you can`t easily compare in one season one batch of games against another. The 13 PL games we have played without RvP included 3 against last season`s top 3 while we played only ManU in the first batch of games so any comparison is invariably not a like for like one. It isn`t that RvP`s scoring rate was in itself a key element, even without his 7 goals the remaining 29 goals in 11 games is still a very strong performance. Though 7 goals in 11 games from any player is not to be sniffed at, on the surface at least it is his effect on the players around him that we seem to be missing the most. In fact the 7 assists Robin contributed still allows him to hold 9th place in the PL assist charts. Cesc has led the scoring since with 5 goals out of the 24 which leaves us with 19 goals in 13 games from the other players compared to the 29 in 11 with a fit RvP.
Our overall performance since the beginning of November hasn`t been poor – with the odd exception of course. Even with our make do attack the 23 points we have collected has only been bettered by two teams in that period. Ominously they are the two teams above us who have both collated 28 points in the same time. Both Chelsea and United have outscored us in the same period with 30 and 33 goals respectively.
With 14 games remaining we need to find a better balance to our attack if we are to rediscover the level of form of the first 3rd of the season. Eduardo and Arshavin have looked to fill that role but neither convincingly though similarly van Persie wasn`t entirely convincing in the role in the early season games. But it is in the assists stakes that we can compare the contributions of Eduardo with 5 assists and Arshavin 2 but with much greater playing time. Similarly with much less playing time Eduardo has created far more goal attempts too. Though we have tended to look at the goals scored to indicate how to replace RvP, Eduardo`s assists show that he is closer to replacing what we have missed than Arshavin. It maybe that in time either might have been able to make a better fist of it but time is a commodity that is all too scarce when competing at this level.
It is unfortunate that the gods conspired to have Bendtner out for a prolonged period at the same time as van Persie has been out. The run of games to the end of last year seemed tailor made for the young Dane to settle into the same role and for the club to experiment with attacking options. Now it looks likely that, fitness permitting we`ll give Bendtner the responsibility for the upcoming fixtures, but he`ll have to hit the ground running to have any impact. If self confidence alone were to guarantee success we`d be on a winner.
“When you come back you know you will find yourself again, and you are going to be strong.” Said the Danish striker ‘You never know what’s going to happen, but I’m almost back to 100 per cent now and I’m going to get better and better all the time. I feel fine in training so let’s see.’
Despite his height and physical stature I`ve never really seen Nicklas as a player to lead the line but many didn`t think van Persie could be either. We`ll give it a try as we must but just as important is the effect that he can have on the players around him. The attack permutations available to us with a fit Bendtner, Eduardo, Vela, Arshavin and Walcott are more varied than we have enjoyed for much of the last 3 months. Whether we have time enough to find one that works as well as it would need to sustain a more serious challenge for the title I doubt but football is a funny game and a combination that works better than expected can suddenly find itself surprising everyone.
Importantly it is still a season delicately poised enough to offer us plenty of motivation to continue competing hard in all the remaining games. To do so we need to find a settled attack that provides us with the confidence we enjoyed earlier. We have to hope that can be discovered quickly as the season still holds the opportunity to take pride in the ability to compete we have shown so far this season.
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