ARSENE Wenger watched Robin van Persie despatch a match-winning free-kick of sublime quality yesterday, but contended afterwards that Sunderland’s Seb Larsson is even better at the job.
The Gunners’ boss believes his Dutch striker is among the best deadball specialists in the Premier League – quite a feather in the cap for a player whose goals tend to come from open play.
But, whatever van Persie’s merits, Wenger believes that since the departure of Manchester United’s Ronaldo from these shores, Larsson is arguably the best deadball specialist in the country.
It’s the reason why the Frenchman was interested in signing the former Arsenal youth player, who was available on a Bosman after his Birmingham City contract expired this summer.
“I think Larsson is possibly the best free-kick taker in the Premier League and I think you saw evidence of that today,” he said.
The national media were intent on cutting him short so that they could ask him about more London-centric matters, but the Frenchman pressed on: “He really is exceptional at them and his equaliser could not have demonstrated that fact more clearly.”
There seemed to a brotherhood in adversity among the two managers, with Wenger appreciating that Sunderland chief Steve Bruce is under the same pressure of expectation as he is after a disappointing start to the campaign.
And, in the spirit of togetherness, he wanted to offer his support.
“Sunderland were 100 per cent committed for the whole game,” he said.
“They played with four defenders and six midfielders and never yielded an inch.
“I think they deserve credit for the way they played against us. They made it into a very competitive game.”
He was, though, only too happy to acknowledged the importance of captain van Persie, who scored goals 101 and 102 of his Arsenal career.
If the 28-year-old stays at the Emirates, it is only a matter of time before he eclipses the record of his Arsenal hero and fellow Dutchman, 121-goal Dennis Bergkamp, to make it into the top 10 of all-time scorers for the Gunners.
Wenger said: “We are here to see special people play and Robin was special against Sunderland.
“He scored two great goals and, in the end, he made the difference.”
Arsenal have had a dreadful start to the season by their own standards, but yesterday’s win lifted them into the top half of the table to give them hopes of better time ahead.
Wenger admitted his side are a work in progress: “We didn’t make the most of our free-kicks – that’s an area we can improve on – as well as our corners.
“But the attitude and spirit of the team is great and we saw after half-time that they responded and Sunderland struggled to get back into the game.
“I think there are good signs.
“We have now won five games on the trot at home and that in itself tells you that something to build on.”