By Andrew Kennedy at the Emirates
On Tuesday evening Arsenal recorded their seventh victory in the past eight games with a 2-1 victory over Bolton in the League Cup, continuing the steady improvement Arsene Wenger’s side have begun to make since their calamitous start to the new season.
After conceding an early second-half goal through Fabrice Muamba, the Gunners’ new found resilience was demonstrated as they quickly overturned the scoreline, with Park Chu-Young proving the home side’s saviour as he opened his Arsenal account with a curling effort to take the lead.
With just two League Cup starts to his name and still to make his Premier League debut, Wenger has been keen to stress that his summer signing is being afforded as much time to bed in to English football as past Arsenal greats such as Thierry Henry and current talisman Robin van Persie.
Indeed, whilst the north London side’s recent run of form has been widely noted, so has the prominent part which the Dutchman has played in their resurgence, with Van Persie scoring seven goals so far this season as he begins to combine his new role as captain and his improved fitness to justify his world-class tag.
Perhaps an ominous figure for Park comes in the shape of Marouane Chamakh, who similarly looked like an impressive import from the French league in the early stages of his Arsenal career, yet the Moroccan has been unable to recover from the sharp dip in form that has plagued him since the turn of the year.
The Gunners’ reliance on Van Persie was impeccably underlined in the 3-1 victory over Stoke City on Sunday, with the 28-year-old’s brace after being introduced as a second-half substitute in place of the wasteful Chamakh only adding fuel to the argument that Arsenal are currently a one-man show.
With Nicklas Bendtner, currently on-loan at Sunderland, never truly considered an adequate solution to the forward line, and Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin all deployed in wide positions with a tendency to go missing in games, the perils of an injury or suspension to Van Persie are there for everyone to see.
What the vacuum of potent attacking threat does provide is an opportunity for Park to define his role at the Emirates, not only as an alternative to the high-flying Dutchman, but also as a striking partner that could provide some much needed variation to the Gunners’ 4-3-3 formation.
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|56'||"Another Goal! 2-1 Arsenal. What a turn around. Arshavin again picks up the ball and runs at the Bolton defence. This time he plays in Park 15 yards from the goal and he easily finishes, putting it past Bogdan"|
| PLAYER RATING
|6.5||Found himself offside far too much and was forced to drop deep due to the physical dominance of the Bolton backline. After two tame efforts there was no mistake with the third, however, which curled well round Bogdan to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead.|
Whilst Park was far from prolific during his three-year spell at Monaco, the 26-year-old is a player of international class – captaining South Korea and having scored 24 goals since his senior debut in 2005 – and Wenger will no doubt be confident of his ability to mould the former FC Seoul man into the Arsenal pedigree.
Park’s winning goal against Bolton to seal his team’s progression into the fifth round of the League Cup only served to compound the Frenchman’s belief that the striker would soon be ready to make his Premier League bow, suggesting he had already seen a marked improvement in the player.
"He showed intelligent link play and the quality of his goal was exceptional. His finishing is absolutely fantastic. For me he has shown tonight that he is a very good player,” Wenger said.
"He’s ready to play for league games, compared to the player who played in the first League Cup game, where he was a bit inhibited; tonight he played with freedom and showed what a good player he is."In only his second game for the club, the South Korean looked lively. Aside from his match-winning strike he was prepared to pepper the goalmouth from distance and showed an aptitude for the intricate football Arsenal strive to play in the final third.
Yet there were a number of themes in the Bolton clash which indicated that any suggestion that Park is already an adequate replacement or foil for Van Persie may be premature.
The forward was dominated physically and aerially by Gary Cahill and Zat Knight, forcing him to drop deeper and deeper to get a foot in the game, whilst his inability to remain onside proved a source of frustration to the Gunners’ attack – only the careful timing of Arshavin ensured Park didn’t stray offside in the build-up to the goal.
Similarly, whilst timing his runs from deep well, his end product often resulted in tame shots and indecision.
The team performance also poses a wider question as to the driving force behind any long-term Arsenal resurgence, with Emmanuel Frimpong and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both showing they lack the maturity to fill the void left by Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, as more established players such as Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun guided the home side to victory.
The more immediate query most certainly lies with Park, however, and whether he can distinguish himself as an integral part of Arsenal’s squad, rather than another passer-by such as Eduardo, Bendtner and Chamakh.
Would writing off the striker’s credentials without any Premier League experience be foolish? Or would suggesting his addition to the Emirates will provide the depth needed to propel Arsenal back into top four contention be just as regrettable? Have your say below by voting in our poll and checking back for the results over the next few days.