Hollins exclusive: Arsenal should bench Van Persie again to beat Chelsea

Former Gunners and Blues star says captain should be used as impact substitute

Former Arsenal and Chelsea star John Hollins believes the Gunners can win Saturday lunchtime’s big Stamford Bridge clash – if captain Robin van Persie drops to the bench again.

Arsene Wenger’s side head to west London in excellent form with seven wins in their last eight games in all competitions, while the Blues are smarting from their shock 1-0 loss at neighbours Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.

Dutch striker Van Persie was a surprise absentee from the starting line-up for Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Stoke City – before coming off the bench to fire a late double, taking his tally to 30 goals in 36 games in 2011.

Van Persie claimed he fully backed the decision after consultation with his manager, but is expected to be restored to the starting XI this weekend after also being rested from Tuesday night’s 2-1 Carling Cup win over Bolton.

Hollins, though, says Wenger should consider ‘dropping’ the Dutch talisman to the bench again if Arsenal are to notch their first away Premier League win of the season at Chelsea.

“How will Arsene Wenger use Robin after last weekend?” said Hollins.

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“Maybe he should stay on the bench like he did against Stoke. It is something to definitely consider – I would be thinking long and hard about it if I was taking my team to Stamford Bridge.

“Arsene Wenger could keep Van Persie fresh rather than stick him on from the start. If he did start, he might be thwarted early on and then be pushed deeper, something that I have seen happen before.

“But if he stays on the bench, Wenger can see how the game pans out. And if he needs him he can throw him on fresh, almost as a surprise, to give Arsenal some strength in the final third. He can be a fantastic impact player.

“He is a magnificent player, supremely talented and with a great goalscoring record, but sometimes these decisions are well worth considering.

“It happened on Saturday. As Stoke’s defenders tired it was clear they could not cope with his movement when he came on. It made the difference.

“These decisions that may seem odd can actually pay off. In Van Persie’s case, I believe it is a big option.”

Hollins, who played more than 450 times for Chelsea and a further 127 for the Gunners, between 1979 and 1983, says he is certain Arsenal have got over their early season nightmare – while claiming Chelsea’s new manager Andre Villas-Boas has tinkered too much.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he smiles. “It’s been said many times because it is true. You win three on the spin and you are back in it, and the manager is everybody’s friend again.

“In my opinion, Arsenal are back. They’re in terrific form with just one defeat in eight, which is excellent if you compare it to the start they had.

“Chelsea are coming into this game on the back of a disappointing league defeat at Loftus Road. But they also showed even with nine men that they had quality and desire.

“What has struck me about them, in the opening couple of months is that Andre Villas-Boas still doesn’t know his best team. To me, that is clear.

“He keeps chopping and changing, juggling and rotating. In addition, we have seen Chelsea can get rattled because QPR certainly got in amongst them.

“I expect AVB to start with Fernando Torres on Saturday as Didier Drogba – much to the relief of many Arsenal fans as he does so well against them – is suspended after his red card last weekend.

“Drogba is a big miss for them and Arsenal will be boosted by the fact he is out.”

Hollins won’t make a prediction on the scoreline though.

“I played for both clubs so a draw would be good,” said the 65-year-old, who now lives just a stone’s throw from Stamford Bridge.

“But what I do expect is a very good game of football with two teams really going for it. I like to see that.

“Arsenal go for it and these days so do Chelsea. I expect them to want to bounce back strongly after the QPR game, but Arsenal also want that first win on the road and are growing in confidence with each game. It’s beautifully poised.”