Van Persie’s involvement proves crucial after his brief breather

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Arsene Wenger was indebted to substitute Robin van Persie after the Dutchman scored twice to sink Stoke yesterday.

Wenger’s decision to start his captain on the bench almost backfired as they had only Gervinho’s strike to show for their dominance in the first half.

To add to their problems, former Tottenham striker Peter Crouch had marked his return to North London with an equaliser 10 minutes before the interval.

But with the Gunners labouring after half-time, van Persie was finally let loose with 25 minutes remaining.

Within a quarter of an hour he had scored twice to bail out his shot-shy team-mates and take his goal tally to 29 in his last 34 appearances for the club.

Wenger then revealed the in-form forward was nearly not involved at all, only passing a fitness test on the morning of the game.

The Gunners manager said: “The second half was basically all us, especially after the first 15 minutes, and then the problem was to score goals and van Persie can do that better than many people, and he did it when he came on.

“He had muscular tightness. I was not even sure he would be on the team sheet but we checked him (yesterday morning) and he was medically all right to be on the bench.

“Before you leave him out you think always 15 times ‘do I really do it?’ but I felt at some stage, and looking at the number of games he has played and with his history, you have to be cautious.

“He played two full games with Holland and the whole game against Sunderland, he played up front alone in Marseille, so at some stage you have to give them a breather, but up front it’s difficult.

“Of course Robin, with his two goals, deserves massive credit but I think Gervinho had a very lively and influential game as well.”

The Gunners have now won six of their last seven matches, not bad for a club in so-called crisis not too long ago.

For Stoke, it meant a third defeat of the season, all of which have come after a Europa League outing on the previous Thursday.

“Van Persie has come on and changed the game,” said Stoke manager Tony Pulis.

“We looked comfortable until he came on, I don’t think Asmir (Begovic) had had a shot to save up until then.

“The lads worked hard. We’ve lost three games this season all on the back of Europa games, but if you look at our running stats they aren’t far off when we’ve been winning games.”