x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arsenal's hopes up in the air

Robin van Persie talks about his team's chances and his dislike for flying as he touches down at the Gunners' soccer school in Dubai.

Arsenal have never really recovered after Robin van Persie suffered ankle ligament damage while paying for Holland in November.
Arsenal have never really recovered after Robin van Persie suffered ankle ligament damage while paying for Holland in November.

Dennis Bergkamp, the former Arsenal and Holland forward, was so terrified of aviation he once claimed he would rather miss a World Cup match than fly to it. His compatriot Robin van Persie, who admits to a distinct dislike of flying, is clearly not so severely worried as his childhood idol: the 26-year-old was willing to board a flight from London to the UAE in order to put some youngsters through their paces at the Arsenal Soccer School Dubai this week.

"I have experienced more turbulence when I go from my house to the training ground," said Van Persie, having safely touched down. The Gunners could do with their Flying Dutchman at the Emirates Stadium tonight after experiencing a turbulent few weeks of their own. Following a chastening FA Cup exit at Stoke, Arsene Wenger's side have picked up just one point from a possible nine. A stalemate at Aston Villa was quickly compounded by defeats to both Manchester United and Chelsea and another setback to fourth-placed Liverpool tonight would close the gap between the two teams to just two points.

The former Feyenoord striker remains ruled out with the ankle ligament damage he sustained in November, and, speaking from the sidelines of the Gunners' UAE football academy, revealed his frustration at missing the majority of his team's title tilt. "I hate it, but I can't do anything about it - this is my situation. Although I really like it [in Dubai], I would much rather have stayed in England and played in all these great games," said Van Persie, who expects to return in April.

"Weeks like the past few when you have Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, then the Champions League against Porto, that's what you are working towards for so long. When you are a kid, that is what you dream of and I am still a kid in a way because I still love it so much. "When you look at great players, they are always fit, always sharp. When you play 50 games a season, you can score more goals and get more assists, so you are more important to the team. Everything starts with your fitness; some players are lucky like that. My aim is just to give my all and come back and be fit. If I do that, the sky is the limit."

When Arsenal faced the Reds at Anfield earlier this season, Van Persie's countryman Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring before an own goal from Glen Johnson and an Andrey Arshavin strike sealed the points for the visitors. Kuyt is expected to start at the Emirates searching for his fifth goal in as many games. "If you look at Liverpool this year, they are losing here, winning there - nobody knows what to expect," said Van Persie.

"They are still a great team, but it is a funny year this year. In past years, half way through the season you could already tell who would be champions, but this year it is far more exciting for all of us; the players, the fans, everyone." Despite Arsenal enduring a four-year barren spell without silverware, Van Persie rejected offers from Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus and Inter to renew his contract at the Emirates last summer. And the striker, who has 46 goals in 126 league games for the North London side, insists he has no regrets.

"It is good that four teams were really interested in me, but I had to turn them down," he said. "It's not as easy to leave Arsenal as you maybe think. Even if you want to leave, as a player, I don't think it is easy because when you move to Arsenal you are led there by your heart." @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae Arsenal v Liverpool. KO 11.45pm, Showsports 1 & 2