When Robin van Persie scored against Birmingham City FC last New Year's Day, he was just relieved to net his first Premier League goal of the season. In fact the Netherlands international was probably more satisfied at coming through 90 minutes of league action unscathed for the first time since August, having managed just 187 minutes since sustaining an ankle injury against Blackburn Rovers FC.
Sadly, injuries have been a recurring theme throughout Van Persie's career. Were it not for perpetual fitness problems, the 26-year-old would surely have made more than the 173 league appearances he has mustered in his seven-and-a-half seasons at Arsenal. A case in point was the ruptured ankle ligaments he sustained in a challenge by Italy's Giorgio Chiellini in November 2009 that ruled him out for six months and placed his appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals in jeopardy.
Fortunately for Van Persie, he was able to travel to South Africa and help his side reach the final, and six months later, that strike at Birmingham triggered an unprecedented goal flurry. By netting 18 times in 19 appearances the Dutchman matched the Premier League record for goals scored between 1 January and the end of a season, and he has carried that rich vein of form into the current campaign.
Van Persie is the English top-flight's leading marskman with 16 strikes from 17 matches and his goal against Aston Villa FC on Wednesday equalled Thierry Henry's club record of 34 goals in a calendar year. The former Feyenoord forward has averaged a goal a game in 2011; three more from this year's two remaining matches, at Wolverhampton Wanders FC and Queens Park Rangers FC, and he will beat Alan Shearer's Premier League record (achieved over 42 matches).
It has been a remarkable transformation for Van Persie, who has been better known as a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer. Before last season the most he had managed in any league campaign was 11.
"I haven't missed one Premier League game [this season]," he said. "So
when you have a good run and you feel fresh and fit, you try things; you take more risks here and there than, for example, [when you are] just coming back from injury."
Van Persie's manager Arsène Wenger has also seen a new maturity about the once impetuous player, who he made captain at the start of the season. "When he first joined Arsenal, Robin was nervous; he was impatient, like every young player," said Wenger. "Now he is completely different. I give the most credit to those who can change. Robin is more mature. He can be impulsive but he listens to people.
Robin is intellectually honest and intelligent. People who change maybe make the biggest improvement in their lives."
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