When Robin van Persie was replaced by James Wilson with 15 minutes remaining at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, not many Manchester United fans were too bothered by the decision. Van Persie has been a shadow of his former self this campaign and he looks like only a fraction of the player United fans grew to love when he propelled them to the title in his debut season at the club. The game at his old stomping ground was his 11th Premier League appearance of the season and, in all honesty, one of his most disappointing.
The Dutchman managed to complete a meagre two passes in the whole first half. In comparison, goalkeeper and man of the match David De Gea completed seven. Van Persie has managed just three goals so far this season and many United supporters are starting to feel that his age is starting to get the better of him. His goal against Chelsea could have been a catalyst for improvement but it only seemed to paper over the cracks in that particular game. Since then, he hasn’t brought much to the table in terms of United’s attacking forays. The trademark runs that have led him to becoming the Netherlands’ all time top goalscorer seem to have dwindled. The moments of magic that he produced (think the volley against Villa and the hat-tricks against Southampton and Olympiakos) are now few and far between.
There are a whole host of reasons that the striker hasn’t soared to the heights of his debut season at United when his 30 goals were the difference between the Red Devils and their noisy neighbours, Manchester City. Some have it down to fatigue. Van Persie has been heavily involved this season following the injuries sustained by Falcao, the suspension of Wayne Rooney and the sale of Danny Welbeck. This is on the back of a long World Cup where he played in all of the Netherlands seven games before returning back to Manchester to report for pre-season. Others seem to think that the knee injury he suffered against Olympiakos in March is still bothering him and, as a result, his performances. Van Persie himself has denied that this is a factor and rubbished rumours that he needs surgery on his knee, although that would explain a lot.
Could it be the team’s form is affecting him? United haven’t been at their fluid best so far this season and this might be hindering Van Persie, rather than the striker inhibiting the team going forward. It was there for all to see when the 31-year-old was substituted at the Emirates Stadium. At a ground where he should have been looking to fire on all cylinders, he had an extremely somber game. On came 18-year- old James Wilson. The difference in the two players was seen right away as Wilson’s pace caused trouble for Arsenal’s relatively weak backline.
The teenager did well to pressurize the back four as well has carrying the ball out from United’s own half on both the right and left flanks. Many United fans are starting to call for change. A club that has famed themselves on their production of youth since the years of the Busby Babes could have a prospect that could go onto great things in Wilson. Louis van Gaal hasn’t been afraid to use the younger players this season, Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Wilson himself will attest to that. With Radamel Falcao back in full training and Wilson impressing when he has been getting the chance it simply seems like a matter of time. There is no doubting the experience and professionalism Robin Van Persie brings to the Manchester United squad.
His relationship with Louis van Gaal, as everyone knows, is an extremely strong one and one that could even be keeping him his place in the side. However, if performances from the last few weeks are anything to go by, it could be time for him and the manager to realize that his age is catching up with him. United fans will forever be indebted to the Dutchman for their league title in 2013 but his time at Old Trafford could be about to dramatically change course.