By Greg Stobart at Anfield
When Liverpool supporters try to ponder how on earth their side were beaten 2-1 by Arsenal on Saturday, the answer should be simple: Robin van Persie.
The Arsenal captain secured an unlikely three points for his side with his first two goals at Anfield, scored from his only sights on goal during the entire match. It was all he needed to make the difference.
In the first-half, he got ahead of Jamie Carragher to head home the equaliser after watching Liverpool miss a series of chances that should have put them out of sight.
Then, two minutes into added time, he volleyed home a superb winner to take his tally for the season to 31 goals in all competitions.
|VAN PERSIE GUNS DOWN REDS
They certainly would not be in pole position for a top four finish, as they are now after a result that moved them three points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea and 10 ahead of Liverpool.
Even Tottenham have come into sight for the Gunners thanks to Van Persie’s wonders; his deadly eye for goal and wand of a left foot.
Take away Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, and no player in the world is playing at the same level as Van Persie. Such is Arsenal’s reliance on Robin that with each passing game there is a greater sense that the club’s ambitions all hinge on his future.
As sensational as Messi and Ronaldo are for the two Spanish giants, they play in squads sprinkled with attacking stardust. Take them out of the side and you are still left with a host of great players who have won personal accolades for their performances.
Take Van Persie out of Arsenal and you are left with a mediocre, uninspiring mid-table squad. Even Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright shone in excellent Gunners’ sides but this current group is so reliant on Robin that it’s dangerous.
It doesn’t make him the best player on the planet - he is one rung below Messi and Ronaldo - but he is the most important to his team in the world.
Arsene Wenger and, more importantly, chief executive Ivan Gazidis, must do everything possible to keep him at the club in the summer, when he will have just a year left on his contract.
That means throwing the pay structure out of the window and offering the 28-year-old a £150,000-a-week deal, it means making two stellar signings to convince Van Persie that he can win trophies with the Londoners.
It may not be enough, of course, because Van Persie’s decision to delay contract talks until the end of the season suggests he considers his future away from Emirates Stadium.
No Arsenal fan could begrudge Van Persie his desire to genuinely compete for the top prizes in football following seven years at the club that have yielded just one trophy, the FA Cup back in 2005.
But one shudders to think of Arsenal without Van Persie, without their talismanic goal machine. Until he commits his future to the Gunners, clouds will hang over the club.
For the second week in a row, Van Persie produced the goods on Saturday, firing Arsenal to three more points to send a wave of optimism and joy through north London.
He is unarguably the runaway candidate for Premier League player of the season and the most valuable player to his team in world football.
Where he is playing at the start of next season could shape Arsenal’s future.
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