Arsène Wenger hails Van Persie mental strength
Arsenal 3 Wigan 0: It seemed an over-reaction when Robin van Persie, having blazed a 70th-minute penalty over the bar, sank to his knees in such despair that Cesc Fabregas felt compelled to run over and cradle his head in his arms to comfort him.
Arsenal were, after all, two up against a Wigan side so supine victory was certain. Moreover, Van Persie had already scored twice so it was not as if he needed a goal to break a long goal drought.
Except it was, in a way. The barren spell playing on Van Persie's mind was his inability to score a hat-trick. The 27-year-old Dutchman had not scored three since hitting five in a Dutch Cup match against AGOVV Apeldoorn for Feyenoord at the age of 19 and, he explained, since that was against amateur opponents it "doesn't really count".
"Today was my first hat-trick," he added, "and it was about time. I had come so close. So many times I'd scored two goals and then I hit the bar or the post. I was starting to think: "Why can I not score a hat-trick? Last week it happened against West Ham, I scored two then hit the post. I thought it would be the same this time when I missed the penalty. I've only missed two penalties in my career. Maybe the occasion got to me a little bit."
When Van Persie followed up by hitting the post it did seem he was cursed but, with five minutes left, Theo Walcott teed him up to smash a shot past Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi. Cue riotous celebrations.
Rather like Australian cricketer Shane Watson's struggle to convert 90s into hundreds, some observers may think "that's a problem I could live with", but it bodes ill for opposing defences if Van Persie has got over a mental block about scoring hat-tricks because the way Arsenal are playing the opportunity to post more trebles will not be long in coming.
Van Persie's pleasure in scoring is multiplied by the memory of the long hours of rehabilitation he endured after suffering an ankle ligament injury when in similar form 15 months ago. Although he featured in the World Cup, only now does he appear to have his sharpness back. That was one of many injuries he has suffered and he has yet to manage 30 league games in a season but, said manager Arsène Wenger, "it has made him stronger mentally".
"A player who is injured a lot feels useless," added Wenger "but he is now completely sharp and fit and looks strong – mentally too." On the plus side, said Wenger, like Fabregas, Van Persie has had "a breather so hopefully we will benefit from that."
Amid the deserved accolades for Van Persie's finishing, the visionary passing of Fabregas, especially for the second goal, and the resistance of Al Habsi, Arsenal's fourth successive Premier League clean sheet largely went unnoticed.
Arsenal's defence had not, it is true, endured the most demanding of afternoons. Wigan rarely got out of their own half and never tested Wojciech Szczesny. The interesting aspect, though, was the approach of Arsenal's rearguard. As at West Ham last week, the back four were careful not to over-commit. Attacking full-backs have been a feature of Arsenal's football in recent years but Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy were judicious in their forward forays and never pushed on together. With Alex Song, who laid on Van Persie's first, and Jack Wilshere sitting in front of the back four Arsenal have a growing solidity about them, notwithstanding doubts about the quality of Laurent Koscielny and the occasional lapses from Johan Djourou.
"We look more and more stable defensively," said Wenger who, as at West Ham last week, was pleased his team did not get carried away by their supremacy and throw men forward hunting more goals, but instead kept their defensive discipline.
Wigan, as Roberto Martinez admitted when not accusing Fabregas of cheating to win free-kicks, were very poor. They won at Spurs in August but have since rolled over at Fulham, West Ham and Arsenal and will need to show more spirit away from home if they are to survive.
Scorer: Arsenal Van Persie 21, 58, 85.
Substitutes: Arsenal Arshavin (Nasri, 75), Denilson (Fabregas, 86), Chamakh (Van Persie, 86). Unused Shea (gk), Eboue, Gibbs, Bendtner. Wigan Athletic McArthur (Stam, h-t), Di Santo (Diame, h-t), Boyce (N'Zogbia, 78). Unused Pollitt (gk), McCarthy, Gomez, McManaman.
Booked: Wigan Thomas; Sent off G Caldwell (70)
Possession Arsenal 58% Wigan 42%.
Shots on target Arsenal 14 Wigan 1.
Man of the match Van Persie. Match rating: 7/10.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).