KT: It's been a long journey for RVP

ESPNSTAR.com's Kelvin Tan takes a closer look at newly-anointed Arsenal centurion Robin van Persie, and marvels what a long way the Dutchman has come.

The striker's in heaven...

Heads hung, and hearts were broken in the away dressing room at Old Trafford, as the Arsenal squad were shell shocked by a 8-2 thrashing at the hands of old rivals Manchester United in August.

Fast forward two months and 12 games later, and the transformation in Arsenal's fortunes has been astounding, and much of that has to do with the inspirational form of Robin van Persie, who has clearly reached the prime of his career in his seventh year at North London, scoring nine goals in the seven Barclays Premier League fixtures after the United loss to revitalise both his team-mates in the dressing room, as well as the fans in the stands.

What is even more astounding about the Dutchman is the fact that he is on an amazing goalscoring streak, scoring 32 goals in his last 37 games for the Gunners.

While the praise and accolades for Van Persie coming in now are certainly warranted, it is interesting to take a look back and see how the striker has developed since moving from Feyenoord in 2004 for a measley £2.75 million.

A tempestuous beginning

Although his Arsenal career started auspiciously, with the striker scoring on his competitive debut in a 2-1 League Cup win over Manchester City, he found himself fighting for a starting spot next to fellow new signing Jose Antonio Reyes, which was understandable given the embarrassment of riches that Arsenal had in the forward department, with club legends Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry still in their pomp.

The 21-year-old Van Persie had to make do with long stretches warming the bench, and he did not take well to the idea, with his frustration rearing its ugly head when he was sent off for the first time in his Arsenal career against Southampton, making an unsightly lunge at left-back Graeme Le Saux.

His behavior was so frustrating that it broke the then-glacially calm Arsene Wenger's patience, with the Frenchman seen screaming expletives at Van Persie for his indiscretion, and even complaining to the press: "I do not support Van Persie today. If any player had to behave, it was him", which was a remarkable thing for the Arsenal manager to say, given his record of myopia when it came to his own players' indiscretions.

The Frenchman punished Van Persie heavily by benching him for most of the 2004/2005 season, but things did not get quickly better for the fiery Dutchman.

Personal woes take over

In fact, it got worse in June 2005, as while in Rotterdam with the Dutch national team for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, Van Persie was arrested on suspicion of rape by Dutch police after Sandra Krijgsman, a former Miss Nigeria Holland, claimed that he had attacked her two days earlier in a hotel.

He languished two weeks in a jail cell while the police investigated Krijgsman's allegations, and the case was only dismissed in Feburary 2006, much to the player's relief, though he had admitted having an indiscretion with the 21-year-old, insisting the affair was consensual. Though Van Persie was proven to be innocent of the charges, his private life was in shambles, as his wife Bouchra Elbali revealed to the Sun in 2009 just how much his betrayal had hurt her.

"Robin made a big mistake. It would have been easy at the time to leave him. I was a very angry girl", she revealed.

"I could have continued with my life and found another guy. But I didn't want that because what we have together is very special. I don't think there's anybody else in the world who is like him. Every human being is allowed to make a mistake.

"It sounds strange to say it, but after that time we now have an even better relationship. It has brought the best out of both of us. It was a break point - did we stop or did we continue?

"And we both agreed that we should continue."

She added: "He was my first serious boyfriend and I was his first serious girlfriend. My mother said to me right at the beginning, 'My dear, don't go with a footballer because they are never serious', but now she is very fond of him. He is so honest and lovely.

The incident marked a turning point in Van Persie's life, as the Dutchman reassessed his priorities, revealed just how glad he was that his family life had not crumbled, adding: "We are so happy. My wife is lovely."

Injury jinx strikes

But sadly, while one chapter of his life was moving on positively, his luck on the pitch was just about to get worse. In the 2005/06 season he would only make 21 starts in all competitions for the Gunners, as he began suffering a series of niggling injuries, most serious of which was a broken toe sustained against Cardiff.

His injury jinx continued in the 2006/07 season as Van Persie managed just 25 starts for the North London club, before breaking his fifth metatarsal in his right foot, while scoring during a dramatic 2-1 win over the Red Devils in January 2007.

A series of knee problems then dogged Van Persie during the 2007/08 season, causing him to lose a full two months in October to December, but his fortunes seemed to take an upswing in the 2008/09 season, as he stayed generally healthy, having his best season overall for Arsenal as he scored 11 Premier League goals, along with a league-leading 11 assists and a then-career best of 20 goals in all competitions, to garner the Player of the Season accolade from Arsenal fans.

His injury-free spell, though, was short-lived.

While on international duty with Holland, the striker ruptured ankle ligaments in an international friendly with Italy, and missed most of the 2009/10 season. The constant interruptions took its toll on his general fitness, and in the 2010/11 season he managed just three games before damaging his ankle and missing ten weeks of football.

By this stage, there were whispers that his career at Arsenal may very well be over, despite his signing of a contract extension in 2009, as Wenger began looking at bringing in Marouane Chamakh from Bordeaux in order to supplement a strike-force that was usually one man short as a result of Van Persie being in the treatment room.

The Dutchman was not impressed, and was determined to prove his worth to both the Arsenal manager and supporters, and upon his return from injury, kicked Chamakh from the startling line-up, scoring an impressive 22 goals in 33 appearances during the season.

Arsenal's new king

He has since stretched that run to the 2011/12 season, earning the armband in the process with the departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, and repaid Wenger's faith in him by notching his 100th goal for the North London club in a 3-0 win over Bolton.

Tempering Van Persie's joy at being both in form as well as injury-free, was the fact that Arsenal were having one of their poorest starts to the Premier League season in the club's long history, and the Dutchman immediately set about to correct that, scoring decisive goals against Sunderland and Stoke in October to guide the Gunners back onto the winning path.

However, doubts remained ahead with Chelsea looming on the horizon- would the Gunners fall once more at Stamford Bridge, and see their recent winning streak a mere false dawn?

Not if the striker could help it.

In a roller-coaster 5-3 victory, the Dutchman notched a hat-trick against the Blues, riding roughshod over Petr Cech, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, and pure joy was evident on his face when the final whistle blew, as he raced, grinning widely to the away fans who were chanting his name, and raised his hands in triumph.

Van Persie was king of Arsenal, at long last.



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