Van Persie proves his worth again
Emirates Stadium was almost deserted as Roger Federer and Thierry Henry stood pitchside, obliging the final autograph hunters and posing for pictures.
The sporting superstars had brought a touch of A-List sporting celebrity to Arsenal's Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund - and were able to show their appreciation for another master of his craft in the shape of Robin van Persie.
The schedule of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena allowed Federer to indulge his passion for football, while Henry was back at his former club as he takes a break from duties with New York Red Bulls.
And while Federer and Henry have graced some of sport's greatest stages, they were very much the support act on Wednesday night as the 28-year-old Van Persie continued a remarkable sequence of form with the goals that put Arsenal into the knockout stages of the Champions League yet again.
The Dutchman once again emphasised why he has become close to a priceless commodity for the Gunners by taking his goals tally to 38 in 41 matches this year.
So it was with a sense of inevitability that Van Persie obliged with a triumph of technique and heading ability to put the home side ahead after 49 minutes before showing his poacher's instinct with a close-range second to confirm Arsenal's win.
Van Persie heads home Arsenal's opening goal against Dortmund. Photo: Getty
It was not vintage Arsenal. It was not even vintage Van Persie as his opener owed much to the persistence and quality of Alex Song, who set up his team-mate with a fine driving run and cross from the left.
But such is Van Persie's current quality and confidence that he was always the prime candidate if anyone was going to deliver the decisive moments Arsenal needed.
It turned out to be an evening of unblemished satisfaction for Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger. With the priority of qualification achieved thanks to a 2-1 win over German rivals Dortmund, news filtered through that Marseille had lost at home to Olympiakos to put the Gunners top of Group F with just one round of games to go.
Not only can Arsenal watch in relative relaxation as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United try to qualify, they can do so safe in the knowledge they will avoid the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich in the next round.
Riches indeed for a team and manager that had to navigate a dangerous qualifier against Italians Udinese before suffering a dreadful start to the Premier League season, a start that included the abject humiliation of an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United.
It would be folly to suggest Arsenal's ills are cured. The Gunners, like Chelsea, City and United, have not produced a body of evidence yet that suggests they might win the Champions League, while their defence remains vulnerable.
But these are problems for another day. None of us who have criticised Arsenal should now shy away from admiring how Wenger and his players have started to turn their campaign around. The recovery is in its infancy but results alone are testimony to a squad that looked in danger of meltdown a few weeks ago.
Wenger certainly looks happier than the tortured figure he cut back in August when he searched for reinforcements following the departures of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy, among others.
The Frenchman is back on an even keel and used his programme notes to underscore his bond with the club, saying: "Arsenal is the club of my life. I have a contract that I will honour and the only way I would one day consider that position is if I feel I am not doing well enough for the club. My commitment and love for this club is completely total."
This will please Arsenal fans greatly, perhaps even those who wavered recently, but one more declaration of commitment from Van Persie may delight them even more.
Until he agrees a new contract, his form will place him on the radar of every top club in Europe. For all the improvement, it is still Van Persie who lifts Arsenal to a level they would find difficult to attain without him.
Arsenal simply cannot afford to lose the striker, a message you suspect Wenger will be delivering to his board in terms they very clearly understand.
Such is Van Persie's importance that an audible murmur swept around the stadium when he was knocked to the ground in the second half, quickly followed by relief when he got to his feet again.
It is not only Van Persie's game that is maturing. He is also showing a greater understanding of his physical needs as well as a greater appreciation of his team-mates.
Van Persie celebrates with his team-mates. Photo: Getty
Van Persie was generous in his praise of Song before the game, saying: "I really see him going from strength to strength right now. He's getting better with every game and it is a joy to play with him."
And so it proved as Song, as he did at Norwich, created the goal for the striker that finally allowed Arsenal to exert their authority.
As for his conditioning, Van Persie revealed that a study of his physical statistics, involving discussions with Wenger, physiotherapist Colin Lewin and fitness coach Tony Colbert, pointed towards the need to rest when the Netherlands played Germany last week - a request generously accepted by Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk.
"Having a little rest can give you an extra five or 10% in a game," said Van Persie. Playing that percentage game has brought the reward of two goals in the win at Norwich City and another double against Borussia Dortmund.
It also meant Van Persie added another accolade to his collection by ensuring his deeds achieved the feat of putting Federer and Henry firmly in the shade.
Arsenal simply cannot afford to be without the Dutchman.