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afc RVP "If you play hard, no problem. Rovers did not play hard, they just kicked"

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Robin Van Persie could not be happier. Well, almost. After a broken metatarsal he is back playing football, back in supreme form and finding the August rush of matches, tiring to others, âfantasticâ. His football club, he is fervently certain, can surprise England by becoming champions again. Best of all, at the end of yesterdayâs game, there was a reunion with the love of his life. Shaqueel, Van Persieâs son, is 10 months old. âI havenât seen him for a week because I was gone with the national team and then Arsenal,â he beams. âI can play with him again.âHis sky is nearly cloudless. Nearly. During a laugh-laden hour in Van Persieâs intelligent company, one thing makes smiles disappear. For this strong-minded son of two artists, it is a matter involving aesthetics, honesty and respect. He has to speak out. âI can get quite mad about it,â he says.He is talking about what he feels was rough treatment at the hands, or rather boots, of Blackburn at Ewood Park last Sunday. In a 1-1 draw that was spiteful even by the standards of recent games between the sides, Ryan Nelsen was sent off and seven players were booked, three from Blackburn, four from Arsenal including Van Persie. Cesc Fabregas claimed that an opponent trod on his neck while he lay prone after a challenge. Arsène Wengerâs assertion that Blackburn had shown a âdesire for violenceâ and been âoverphysicalâ was rubbished by Mark Hughes and later ridiculed by Alan Hansen, providing analysis on the BBC.Van Persie, accused in a counterclaim by Hughes of committing the worst foul of the game, on Stephen Warnock, is still seething. âIt [blackburnâs tactics] is nothing to do with football. Itâs about getting us out of our way of playing football. And if you do those things, you can expect a reaction. Iâm watching Match of the Day, which I think is a fantastic programme . . . and I donât think itâs honest to laugh at the boss and say, âOh yeah, Arsenal are always the same, they always complainâ. Thatâs not honest,â he says.âWeâre not being complainers, because they [blackburn] did it. If you cross the border against us, we will react, no? I think the boss has the right to tell the cameras about it, to say something to the people back home. Itâs not honest to say, âArsenal is always moaningâ.âGet stuck in against Arsenal: they canât cope with the physical stuff. It is an idea repeated so often as to have become a cliche. What deepens Van Persieâs resentment is his contention that not only is this truism false, but it also came straight from the television studios. âTwo or three people said it on TV and suddenly everyoneâs thinking, âThatâs the way to beat Arsenalâ,â he says. âItâs not. Personally I will never give in to it.âFabregas, heâs small, but he goes into battle. Itâs the same for [Mathieu] Flamini. Same for Gilberto [silva]. If you look at us, I think this idea is based on nothing more than air.âBack to Blackburn. Under Hughes they have become Arsenalâs bogey team but also their bogeymen, stretching back to an FA Cup semi-final in 2005 in which Van Persie was the victim of what seemed a deliberate forearm smash by Andy Todd. The Dutchman hit back with two gorgeous goals then, and he is not going to be supine now. âIn our first week of games Fulham played hard against us, but fair. Sparta Prague played hard and sometimes unfair. Blackburn, most of the time, didnât play hard, they just kicked.âI want to say one thing about that. However you play, you have to always respect each other. Blackburn didnât do that. Iâm angry about it, still, because I think footballâs a manâs sport. You have to be tough, yes, but you have to play fairly.âIf you play hard against us, no problem, no problem at all. But any team will get upset if you cross the border against them, and not accidentally, just for fun. If someoneâs stamping into your neck, you have to react, because if you donât defend yourself, you are weak and it will happen again.âThere is a verbal element to Blackburnâs approach that he also dislikes, and, although there is no naming of names, more than a whiff of Robert James Savage is left by what he says next. âOne thing Iâm thinking is, âI will never give upâ,â Van Persie asserts. âI will never give up to certain people who donât respect football. Because if youâre playing a game and youâre speaking for 85 minutes, you donât have respect for the game. Itâs just a joke. Every action you make, moaning. Talking to the ref. I say play the game. Football is a beautiful game. Play it properly.âHe is just 24, yet Van Persie was the third-oldest of the outfield players with whom Arsenal finished the Blackburn match and he has just been involved in launching a club appeal on behalf of TreeHouse, an autism charity founded by the author Nick Hornby.His abilities, showcased by strikes in Arsenalâs first two Premier League games and the sweetest goal in preseason against Inter Milan, also set him apart. From being an errant prodigy, chastised by Wenger for indiscipline, he has become Arsenalâs figurehead in the postThierry Henry era, but he has not, as some would have it, âgrown upâ all of a sudden. For two years his disciplinary record has been admirable, and he was Arsenalâs top scorer last season despite missing the rest of the campaign after breaking his foot (in the act of scoring) against Manchester United in January.âI donât see myself as a talent any more. I have to produce,â he says. âThat stage, when I was a young player allowed to make mistakes, has been gone for a long time. Now people are saying: âThierryâs gone, you have to do this and thatâ, but it will only block you if you try to change. This is a team sport and itâs about staying close to your own character. Iâm not Thierry.âIn football it happens that big players leave. Itâs not the case that because of Thierryâs departure I have to take more responsibility. If I want to develop, I have to take more responsibility anyway, in every training session, every game, every week, every month.âOf course when Thierry played he got the most attention, because he was fantastic and itâs normal that people are looking and saying, âWhoâs going to score this season? Ah, Robinâ. But everyone has to take responsibility and Iâm just part of it. I spoke to a younger guy in our team. Iâm not going to say his name, but I think he had the wrong idea of what the Premier League is. I think you have to experience the Premier League to know how difficult it can be.âSome believe Henry was so bright a star that teammates could get dazzled; they believe that Arsenalâs young players might benefit from the removal of his overbearing presence. âIâve heard that point of view, but, for me, not at all,â Van Persie says. âOf course sometimes Thierry could react a bit disappointed. Because he was a player â and itâs the same with all great ones â who cannot understand why A, B, C doesnât happen. â[Marco] van Basten was similar. Those players who are unique, are so good, that if you hit a fantastic pass, for them itâs a normal pass, and if you have a bad pass, they donât understand. I donât have a problem with that. I learnt a lot from Thierry and I was always happy to play and train with guys like him, Dennis [bergkamp], Sol Campbell. Real men. Top professionals.âWhat I liked most about Thierry was his desire. He was playing 60, 70 matches a year and every time he was there, being the best, being decisive for his team, again and again and again. Now Iâm playing every game for Arsenal and Holland, I know how hard that is. You have to play a mental game with yourself. Youâre tired, thatâs a fact, but how tired are you? Are you going to stop and finish the game? Or are you going to say âYes, Iâm tired, but Iâm not going to give upâ. Thatâs what Thierry did for so many years.âShorn of Henry, many people have trouble seeing Arsenal as genuine contenders both for the Premier League title and in the Champions League (which, 2-0 up from the away leg of their qualifier, they should reach barring calamity in Wednesdayâs home leg versus Sparta Prague). âI understand the reasons of the press and the fans,â Van Persie says. âThierry left. Bang. No chance. Theyâre thinking, âLast year Arsenal didnât do it with Thierry, so now theyâre not going to do it without himâ. But Iâm here every day. I see what those people donât see.âMy belief is great and it is deep. In football lots of things have to come together and one of those things is if you want to run for each other, if itâs not your day but you still want to sacrifice yourself for your teammate. Thatâs what I see in this team. Itâs either there or not there and itâs something you canât buy.âSome press and fans think that because Liverpool, Man U and Chelsea are spending money they are the contenders for the title. I think in a different way. Itâs not only about that. Nobody is predicting we can win the league, and maybe that puts us in a good position. We can surprise people and in our games so far we have already shown we can play consistent. Weâre young, but many of us, like myself and Cesc, have already played 100 times for Arsenal.âNobody is going to keep Van Persie down, not the doubters, not the pundits and certainly not the bogeymen of Blackburn. The Times

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