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Captain van Persie has eyes set on Wembley glory with Gunners

PUBLISHED: 16:09 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 07 September 2010

BY JEM MAIDMENT Once the bad boy of Dutch football – and that is quite an accolade knowing the traditionally divisive, confrontational nature of players from across the North Sea – Robin van Persie is enthusiastically embracing his new senior role at Arsenal. The 25-ye

Once the bad boy of Dutch football - and that is quite an "accolade" knowing the traditionally divisive, confrontational nature of players from across the North Sea - Robin van Persie is enthusiastically embracing his new senior role at Arsenal.

The 25-year-old is one of the elder statesmen of the current Gunners squad of juniors, but few could have predicted his elevation to captain for Saturday's 3-1 FA Cup win over Plymouth Argyle at The Emirates.

William Gallas's runaway gob, Cesc Fabregas's crocked knee and a day of rest for Manuel Almunia, meant Arsene Wenger handed the wayward Rotterdammer the coveted armband.

And he responded with a mature display capped with two fine goals to send the Gunners through to the fourth round.

That brace took his tally to 12 for the season - he's now the club's leading scorer too - and Wenger's admiration for van Persie, who signed from Feyenoord five years ago next month as the roughest of rough diamonds after a move to Eredivise rivals PSV Eindhoven fell through, is clear for all to see.

Unwanted by hometown club Feyenoord for one indiscretion too many, his then club manager Bert van Marwijk - now the Holland coach - once said of him: "His behaviour made it impossible for him to remain in the squad any longer."

But then he has never been one for convention.

Reportedly a convert to Islam - something he has never publicly disclosed - he is married to a Dutch girl of Moroccan descent and was brought up by his bohemian artistic father in a tough multi-racial Rotterdam district.

That unconventional upbringing shaped van Persie into the headstrong, albeit fabulously talented, character that he has become.

"He is a big example of how well you can have an evolution, when you consider when he came here and who he is today," said his current manager.

As for his unlikely ascendancy to captain, Wenger added: "Robin has always been interested in team affairs and wants to help sort things out."

Never a shrinking violet, and with an unshakeable belief in his talent - another typical Dutch trait - van Persie's undoubted love for the club, allied with his extraordinary skill, has long endeared him to Arsenal followers.

And never a respector of reputation, his forthrightness reportedly brought him into conflict with senior players on the training ground long ago. Thierry Henry is just one who is believed to have been caught in van Persie's crosshairs in the past.

But his elevation has clearly surprised even van Persie himself, despite his cocksure swagger.

"It is just a great honour to be captain even if it is for just one game," he said this week "I was quite surprised when the manager said it, but I love it because I always just try to help and be positive for the team."

He has many admirers. Former Arsenal star Paul Merson, another wayward talent who came good, said recently: "There's no doubt about it, when RVP is playing like he can, we are a much better team - I love watching the bloke, he's incredibly talented."

Beset by injuries over the past three years, the colourful attacker seems to have finally shaken off his varying ailments - and he desperately wants silverware.

And van Persie clearly has an eye for the oldest knockout cup competition in world football.

After picking up a winners' medal at the end of his first full season in May 2005, he wants another.

"For me, it is a big thing because the FA Cup has a big history going back a 100 years," he explained.

"I was lucky enough to win it in my first year and I hope to win it this year as well.

"I know it is going to be difficult because you can draw teams that give absolutely everything.

"There are big tests coming up but hopefully we can go far and make at least the final."

Van Persie added: "When we were in the final last time, we were playing at Cardiff.

"It was fantastic in front of 70,000 people, but it is still a dream for me to play at Wembley. I have never played there.

"There are big tests coming up but hopefully we can go far and make at least the final."

He had made no secret of his annoyance at Arsenal's barren trophyless spell which stretches to nearly four years, the longest period without silverware of Arsene Wenger's 12-year tenure in north London.

"When I came here the club was winning trophies for fun," he said. "I came to the champions, so I was expecting something. But it has not really happened in the last three years.

"It is not a reason for me to give up - it is a bigger challenge for me to do it.

"If we can do it now, then it is a big achievement."

And speaking like a true captain, van Persie has called on his colleagues to make 2009 a year to remember. "Everyone has to improve, but that is no problem," he said. "If you look at the last couple of games, we have been winning and not losing, so that is the basics.

"Even the hard games, we need to produce and sometimes we need to win ugly games if you want to achieve something big. Hopefully, we can do that."

editorial@hamhigh.co.uk


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