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Robin van Persie's Man Utd and Arsenal goals rank him as one of Premier League's best


"I remember Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saying to me 'he's better than you think' when we concluded the deal. He was right… He has had as big an impact as anyone I can imagine.”

As Robin van Persie edges closer to the Old Trafford exit door, Sir Alex Ferguson’s glowing assessment of his first season at Manchester United seems like an awfully long time ago.

It was April 2013 and Van Persie had just sealed United’s 20th league title with a blistering hat-trick against Aston Villa at Old Trafford. His second strike that night, a breath-taking volley from Wayne Rooney’s 50-yard pass, was described as the “goal of the century” by a beaming Ferguson.

Eight months earlier, the legendary United manager had been the driving force behind Van Persie’s acrimonious £24million move from Arsenal.

The Dutchman had smashed 37 goals in 48 appearances for the Gunners in 2011/12, and Ferguson was convinced he was the man to wrestle the title back from Manchester City.

Robin van Persie looks set to leave Manchester United after three years at Old Trafford, during which he won his only Premier League winner's medal.
Image: Van Persie played a key role in United's 2012/13 Premier League win

Van Persie proved Ferguson right in emphatic style, topping the Premier League scoring charts with 26 goals, but after that dazzling first season his fortunes dramatically declined. Ferguson’s shock retirement seemed to affect him deeply, something which was later confirmed by his former team-mate Rio Ferdinand.

“The person it hit more than anyone was Robin,” he said on MUTV. “He'd come the year before, tasted that success and wanted more. Visually you could see it hit him harder than anyone else at the time.”

The injury problems that blighted Van Persie’s early years returned and his performances dipped under David Moyes. The Dutchman had usurped Wayne Rooney as United’s talisman in 2012/13, but his influence diminished and his tally in all competitions dropped from 30 goals in 48 appearances to 18 in 28 in the following year.

Robin Van Persie of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on March 3, 2012 in Liverpool, England.
Image: Van Persie's transfer to United followed a stellar 2011/12 season with Arsenal

Van Persie never felt comfortable in Moyes’ system – and he vocalised his frustration after a dismal Champions League defeat at Olympiacos in February. "My fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in,” he told Dutch TV, after struggling at the top of a 4-2-3-1 formation. “That forces me to adjust my runs… I think that's a shame."

All was not well for Van Persie, and a knee injury ensured he only played six more games in 2013/14 before Moyes’ departure.

The arrival of his international manager Louis van Gaal augured well – especially after his four-goal contribution to the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign in Brazil – but Van Persie’s decline showed no sign of abating and he was granted no special treatment by his countryman as he found himself dropping down the Old Trafford pecking order.

Image: Robin van Persie has struggled to replicate the highs of his first season at United

His total of just 10 goals in 29 appearances last season was his lowest in half a decade, and a look at the stats highlights the extent of his decline. As well his falling numbers of goals, assists and appearances, the Van Persie’s average of 3.7 shots per game in 2012/13 had fallen to 2.8, and his average of 1.9 key passes per game had dropped to 1.

Despite his dramatic fall from grace and an early career which was hindered by fitness problems, Van Persie deserves to be remembered as one of the Premier League’s best ever strikers – albeit not one of its most decorated. At his best, he was utterly devastating, combining grace, poise and impeccable control with a lethal presence in the box and a sledge-hammer of a left-foot.

And despite injuries limiting him to only two seasons out of 11 in which he made 30 or more Premier League appearances, his time with Arsenal and United still yielded a combined total of 144 league goals in 280 games.

Image: Van Persie's stats highlight his standing among the league's top strikers

Of players to have scored over 100 goals in the Premier League, only Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright beat Van Persie’s goals-per-game ratio of 0.51. Indeed, Van Persie’s scoring rate trumps Premier League greats such as Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Andy Cole, as well as his United team-mate Rooney.

That quartet can, of course, point to their superior trophy hauls when it comes to their legacies. For all his talent, Van Persie leaves England with only a single Premier League winner's medal to add to the FA Cup he won with Arsenal in 2005.

Indeed, there is more than a hint of ‘what if’ about his departure. It is no coincidence that the two best seasons of his career, when he scored 67 goals in 96 appearances for Arsenal and United between 2011 and 2013, were the only two when he was injury-free, and in total he missed over a third of Arsenal and United’s league games between 2004 and 2015.

The manner of his move to Old Trafford ensures he will always be a pantomime villain in north London, but Van Persie’s place in United’s folklore is assured, despite his fading fortunes. United’s team of 2012/13 was a long way short of Ferguson’s best, but in Van Persie they had an inspirational individual who made the difference. The pivotal role he played in their 20th league title triumph should not be forgotten amid the struggles that have followed.

So while it is fair to say Van Persie never truly fulfilled his potential in the Premier League, he still goes down in history as one of its best-ever marksmen. 

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