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Arsène Wenger will put Robin van Persie's fitness before goal record

Arsène Wenger will put Robin van Persie's fitness before the striker's quest to break a 16-year-old goalscoring record when he picks his team for Arsenal's final two matches of the year.

Van Persie has scored 34 Premier League goals in as many appearances in 2011 and he needs two to equal and three to better Alan Shearer's haul of 36 with Blackburn Rovers in 1995. He has already matched Thierry Henry's 34 for Arsenal in 2004 and what make his numbers even more impressive is that Shearer needed 42 games to score his goals and Henry 39.

Van Persie is desperate to set a new mark but the manager is mindful of the perils of overusing a player who has a chequered fitness history. Arsenal have home fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday and Queens Park Rangers on New Year's Eve for Van Persie to attempt the record but they travel to Fulham on Monday 2 January. Wenger is loth to start the striker in all three matches and, under normal circumstances, would rest him in the middle fixture of the sequence, against Rangers. But that may frustrate Van Persie if he is within touching distance of history.

At the forefront of Wenger's thinking is the condition in which he found Van Persie the last time he started three matches in a week. After the third of them, at home to Fulham on 26 November, he described Van Persie as being "on the edge" of injury.

"It will be a big demand for him [to start all three]," Wenger said. "I don't want to stop him [getting the record]. I am very happy if he does it but if he can combine the record with staying fit … What is important for me now is he stays fit. I believe the great players know what is important."

Wenger knows that Van Persie will always put the team first but he has experience of the single-mindedness of top strikers. "Ian Wright was aiming for the record and he didn't score," Wenger said. "After, he said: 'I'm not bothered,' but you know with Ian Wright the one thing he thought about day and night was scoring the next goal.

"It was a little while [the same] for Thierry as well, so it's on their minds but they do not have to make an obsession of it, just play naturally. It is strange as you score goals when you don't think about it."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Sunday 25th December 2011 23.00 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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