Robin van Persie is in the midst of his best Premier League season for Arsenal with 27 goals to his name.
However, with only one strike in his last six matches, I’ve been reading articles that believe the Dutchman is showing the signs of fatigue. Van Persie has played in his highest number of matches in a Premier League season this campaign though, so is there some truth to these views?
I thought it was time to put Robin van Persie under the microscope and see if he really is showing signs of slowing down?
Robin van Persie and his form for Arsenal
Robin van Persie has been the Gunners’ talisman this season in front of goal. A year on from his previous highest Premier League tally of 18, the Dutchman has obliterated that mark with 27 strikes this term.
In his last six Premier League matches, he has only scored once though, but does it mean he is slowing down?
Games 1 – 28
Games 29 – 34
|Mins on pitch||2431||540|
|Shots at goal||126||22|
|Mins per shot at goal||19 mins||25 mins|
|Shots per match||4.7||3.6|
|Mins per touch of ball||1.9 mins||1.9 mins|
|Mins per key pass||41 mins||38 mins|
While Robin van Persie is still getting a touch of the ball every 1.9 minutes on pitch, there are two things that immediately jump out.
Firstly, van Persie’s minutes per shot at goal have increased, resulting in fewer efforts at the target per game. In the first twenty-eight Premier League games he was averaging 4.7 shots per match, in his last six matches he is averaging just 3.6 shots per match.
On the flip side to this though, while his shots per game are down, his shooting accuracy is up, with the Dutchman hitting the target with half of his efforts.
Secondly, van Persie’s passing and therefore his chance creation have actually improved. Before, the Dutchman was making a chance-creating key pass in the Premier League every 41 minutes on pitch. In his last six matches, he is making a key pass every 38 minutes.
As a result, he has three assists, almost half his total during the first twenty-eight Premier League matches.
Although Robin van Persie is passing the ball better, his shots at goal are down, but is this a sign of fatigue or something else?
Why are the goals drying up?
Robin van Persie shooting
Van Persie’s shots per game are down from 4.7 to 3.6 in this six-game barren run, but if we look at Arsenal as a team, they are creating fewer opportunities.
In their first twenty-eight Premier League matches, Arsenal were creating a chance every 7 minutes. Whereas in their last six games, they have only fashioned one every 8.5 minutes. Whilst this may not seem like much, over the course of 90 minutes this means that Arsenal are only creating 10.5 chances per game now, compared to 13 before.
So the chances created by the team are down and this goes some way to explaining why Robin van Persie is only taking 3.6 shots per game compared to 4.7 earlier in the season. But is this all that is at work?
Are defences playing Robin van Persie better?
With Robin van Persie firing in the goals, commentators had labelled Arsenal as a one-man team and so naturally opposition defences were going to scheme for him.
The reason for his goals drying up could be that Arsenal have had a tough run of fixtures against the Premier League’s top sides. However, the Gunners have played Wigan, QPR, Wolves, Aston Villa and Manchester City in their last six. With only Everton and Man City in the top half of the table, Arsenal have had a decent run of games. So are these teams singling out van Persie to stop Arsenal?
The first place to look would be fouls suffered, but Robin van Persie has only had four fouls committed against him in these last six Premier League matches.
If we take a look at some of van Persie’s last six Premier League matches though, we can see that defences are paying more attention to him.
If we look at his last game at home to Wigan, we can see a few things going on.
Firstly, Robin van Persie receives the ball in a number of good attacking areas. The primary position where he gets the ball is to the left side of the box, which is his preferred place to take shots from.
He receives two passes deep and towards the left edge of the box, which he can shoot or cut back. He also gets three passes in to an area just left of the penalty spot which is where he is really dangerous and has a good shooting angle.
The other area is out to the right of the box, where he again he has an angle where he can go across the keeper.
What Wigan are able to do is limit his shooting from these areas on the left where he receives a lot of passes, blocking one of his shots and not allowing any others. Van Persie does get one shot away inside the area from the right side, but it goes wide. His other two strikes at goal in the game come from outside the box from a free-kick and a long-range effort. The areas where he is getting shots away from are not high on the chance quality index.
In the Away match against QPR, Robin van Persie also received passes in these key areas, but less than in the game with Wigan. QPR did a good job of not only limiting passes to Robin van Persie in the box, but also forcing him to shoot from distance.
The Dutchman attempted five efforts on the day, but four were from outside the penalty area with one of his shots blocked.
The home match with Aston Villa saw Arsenal win 3-0, but Robin van Persie failed to score. The Dutchman again received the majority of passes in to him in the left-hand side of the penalty area, but was unable to get any shots away from here. He did on this occasion receive three passes in to a very central location but was unable to capitalise.
Robin Van Persie was able to get four shots away on the day, and although all four were in the penalty area, two of them were again blocked.
Robin van Persie did score against Wolves though, albeit from the penalty spot after the Molineaux men were reduced to ten early on after Sebastien Bassong’s red card.
In this game though, Wolves defended deep after the sending off and virtually all of the passes in to Robin van Persie were outside of the 18-yard area.
The Dutchman only received two balls inside the box in the whole game, one he turned goalwards, the other was put wide. In total, he got three shots away other than his penalty and all three were inside the area, but only two were on target.
One common theme that seems to come up in his last six matches is the number of shots Robin van Persie has had blocked.
Defences do seem to be forcing the Dutchman to shoot from further out, but they are also blocking more of his shots.
In the first twenty-eight Premier League matches of this season, Robin van Persie took 126 shots of which 21 were blocked (16%). In his last six Premier League matches, van Persie has taken 22 shots of which 5 have been blocked (23%).
When the Dutchman’s shots per game are down from 4.6 to 3.6 in this period, to have more of his shots blocked is also reducing his chances of scoring.
To put that in context, when Robin van Persie was scoring for fun in the first twenty-eight games of this Premier League season, he was only having 1 in 6 of his shots blocked. In this current six game barren run where he has only scored from the penalty spot, he is having 1 in every 4.5 shots blocked.
Is Robin van Persie showing signs of fatigue?
It would appear that Robin van Persie is not showing signs of fatigue, but is actually showing signs of being slowed down, by the opposition.
Arsenal are creating less chances per game, which are down from 13 per match when he was firing, to 10.5 per match now. This has reduced van Persie’s shots at goal from 4.7 per game to 3.6 per game in this six match, one goal barren spell.
To further slow Robin van Persie down, defences seem to be scheming for him by forcing him to shoot from further out and by blocking his shots more frequently.
It will be interesting to see how he fares against Chelsea this weekend. Robin van Persie was on fire for Arsenal in the 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge, will Chelsea have a gameplan for him this time?