Belfast Telegraph

Gunners hopes rest on Van Persie

Two former championship-winning footballers believe it is imperative that Arsenal keep hold of Barclays Premier League top goalscorer Robin van Persie next season if they are to challenge for honours.

Both Ruud Gullit and Alan Smith have revealed they are big fans of the 28-year-old who was named Professional Footballers Association player of the year on Sunday night. Van Persie has struck 27 league goals so far this campaign but the Gunners remain 18 points behind league-leaders Manchester United.

"Yes he is vital to success," former Holland captain Gullit told Press Association Sport. "Arsenal need to win trophies and I think Van Persie wants to and he knows if he wants to become one of the legends of football he needs to win trophies and he will ask Arsene Wenger to strengthen the squad. The team need to give him help."

It is now eight years since Arsenal last lifted silverware and Smith, who won two league titles with the Gunners, reckons Van Persie has learnt a lot since being promoted to captain.

He said: "I think he maybe surprised himself the way he has taken to the responsibility and he is a proper Arsenal man now from what I hear.

"It means a lot to him that Arsenal win and he takes it hard when they lose, I think the captaincy has improved him and brought him on."

But Smith was in agreement with Gullit in suggesting manager Arsene Wenger needs to not only keep hold of his talismanic skipper this summer but also must spend some money to take some of the growing pressure off Van Persie.

"He needs help," he said. "There has been an over-reliance on him this season and Arsene Wenger knows that he knows to get other avenues because you can't guarantee one player getting 30 goals every year. He needs a bit of weight taken off his shoulders."

The former Feyenoord frontman beat David Silva and Wayne Rooney to be named player of the year and he was very humbled at the recognition from his peers.

"If other people are saying it is special but it is even more special if your opponents are saying it," he told Press Association Sport. "It is very special because you are playing against them week in week out and every single player does everything to win and in the end if they make up their minds that I'm the best player it is a big honour."

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