Wenger: Van Persie vital for Gunners
Arsene Wenger believes a revitalised Robin van Persie can help fire Arsenal's Premier League title challenge after watching the Dutchman net his first hat-trick as ten-man Wigan Athletic were beaten 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
The 27-year-old took his tally to six in the last three games with a treble against the below-par Latics - and that after blasting a penalty high into the stands following Gary Caldwell's red card for pulling back Cesc Fabregas.
Van Persie has a history of promising campaigns interrupted by injury, last season undergoing ankle surgery to be fit in time for the FIFA World Cup™.
The Netherlands forward had another frustrating spell on the sidelines from the end of August until the start of November after picking up a further ankle problem, but has looked sharp on his return.
Wenger hopes a fresh Van Persie - kept on the bench before coming on to score in the FA Cup third-round replay at Leeds United - can give the Gunners the edge as they challenge for both domestic and European honours.
"Robin is an important player in our squad. He can finish, provide and the understanding with our offensive players is very good so of course, he will be very important," Wenger said. "Some players have played many games, but Van Persie has been out for a long time. Him and Fabregas had a long breather and we hope he can benefit from that."
Wenger feels Van Persie will have grown in character from an enforced spell on the sidelines. "What he has gone through has been difficult," the Arsenal manager said. "A player who is injured is fragile. He feels useless and is without his job. He is without his happiness.
"On the other hand, it has made him a lot stronger mentally because he had to fight against disappointments. This is what makes you strong in life. Robin is now a completely sharp and fit - and strong. He looks strong mentally."
Wenger feels the way his side continued to press Wigan, despite missing chance after chance as Latics goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi made a string of fine saves, shows they have grown in maturity.
"We are in a job when if you do not take your chances, you will pay for it," said Wenger, who will again rotate his side when they look to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the second-leg of their Carling Cup semi-final against Ipswich Town at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
"You will feel a bit guilty and what is important is that you don't have your mind on the chance that you missed, that you keep your focus on the way we want to win football," he said. "Some players carry that with them and think 'I should have scored here' and then you lose your game. On that front, I feel we have matured. We came out and wanted to play."