Maybe it’s strange for me to say this… but scoring 100 Arsenal goals doesn’t mean as much to me as it probably should!
To me, it’s just a number. It’s just another record or milestone that’s there to be broken and that’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve always treated records and landmarks as something to hit, be done with and then just move on. That’s how I feel right now and that’s what’s always worked for me. It’s just the way I am.
As a kid, I always played as a No 10 and my game was never about scoring goals. I obviously still scored a lot of goals, but that wasn’t my main job. The focus was on creating chances for my team-mates and linking play together, and I feel like that mindset has stayed with me throughout my whole career. The most important thing for me has always been playing good football; that’s assisting, holding up the ball, being creative, pressing and combining with my team-mates.
I’ve always said that I consider myself to be a ‘9.5’. I’m not a No 10 and I’m certainly not a No 9, so I feel like it describes my style of play perfectly. I think this is a Dutch thing, we’ve always had a history of producing these players who don’t fit into a certain box positionally, and I love that. In my mind at least, it’s how football should be played.
I feel like because I’m a striker my job has always been to score goals and people have always looked at my record to decide if I’m playing well or not - but I think there’s so much more to me as a player than just being a finisher.
This all comes from the education that you receive in Dutch football schools and I think it helps when you’re growing up and can admire players like Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben. They’re some of the very best in the world at reading the game, rather than just being the most technically gifted. They all have different qualities that make them such unique and effective players and because of that I’ve always told myself that I should be open to playing in any position.
I played as a No 8 in my first season at Heerenveen, I’ve played off the left at Arsenal, I’ve played as a No 10, and of course, I’ve played as a No 9 too. I’ve never focused on just one position and I think when you compare Dutch players to a lot of other countries, our sense of tactics is a lot more open and a lot more developed, which has really helped me as a player.
A few years ago I was asked whether I prefer scoring a goal or doing an amazing piece of skill, and my answer is still the same today… the skill! I’ve always liked to think of myself a ‘real footballer’. What I mean by that is being able to read the game, being able to adapt to different situations, and being able to master (or at least try to) every aspect of the game.
Growing up, I remember watching Zidane a lot, and for me he defines what it means to be skilful. A lot of people confuse being skilful with freestyle football and juggling the ball, but that really isn’t the case when it comes to playing in a match. It’s got no use whatsoever on the football pitch. In my mind, being a skilful and technical player is all about having a good first touch, being able to use both feet and having the ability to change direction with a single touch or turn. That’s something I’ve always been aware of, but I guess I’m probably quite gifted in that sense too. I’ve never had to train with my left foot or anything like that really, it was just something that came naturally to me, and I think my ability to go left or right with a quick change of pace is one of my best skills.
There’s an old quote from Johan Cruyff and it sums it up perfectly for me: ‘Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is’. I’d like to think I’ve mastered the Cruyff turn now too!
Someone pointed out to me the other day that my goal against Chelsea was identical to my goal in the final of the Euros, and that’s what I mean about being skilful and perfecting a signature finish or move. The luxury I have with chances like those is that every defender knows I can cut inside on to my right and shoot at the near post, but they also know that with one more touch, I can flick the ball past them down the left and then fire back across goal. That gives me the best opportunity to score a goal - being able to make the defender question where and when I’m going to shoot. They never know what to expect.
When I first came to England, I struggled quite a lot with how individual we were as a team and I think once I started leading the line, I added the connection and fluidity we needed in attack with the midfield, and Joe’s style of play certainly helped with that too. We finally created a team instead of being a group of individuals, and that’s what matters most to me. I’m never focused on just me, I care about the team and want all of us to be the best that we can be together. So much so that I should probably be a bit more focused on myself sometimes!
Maybe some of you will disagree, but I feel like I’ve got a bit better at enjoying scoring and showing my emotions more recently. I feel like the way I view football and scoring goals is a little different these days. Being in the spotlight and having the attention on me has never been my thing. I’ve been like this since I was a kid, I like doing my thing in the background, but Lisa always tells me that the only way to stop people talking is to stop scoring - and I definitely I don’t want to do that!
I’ve heard stories of players checking the top scorers list after a game to see whether someone else has overtaken them, but that’s honestly never bothered me. It’s more the people around me who care about the stats! In my mind, as long as I know that I’ve tried everything I can and I’ve given 100 per cent, if someone else finishes ahead of me, I can’t do anything about it and that’s just how it is.
As the years have gone on, the pressure and expectation on me has risen from the fans and my friends and family, but when you get older, it’s easier to block that stuff out and focus on what’s really important. I just want to be me. I know what I stand for and I don’t care about the numbers.
This is going to sound really stupid, but when I’m on the pitch, I’m really not that focused! I see a lot of things happening around me and I just try to keep my cool at all times. I know the fans enjoy the fact that I don’t smile or celebrate too often on the pitch, but trust me, I do sometimes! It’s normally the little things like seeing a young fan jumping in the crowd or having a joke with my team-mates or an opponent! Scoring goals just doesn’t seem to make me smile like that, I prefer to just be myself and be relaxed.
But look… I know you’re reading this because I scored my 100th goal for the club, and while I’m not one for creating emotional attachments to records like this, seeing the reaction of my team-mates and all the fans online is what matters most to me. That’s something special.
It’s always an honour to be named alongside players like Rachel Yankey, Kelly Smith and Julie Fleeting, but I’ve honestly never had that emotional attachment to milestones like this, and all I want to do is focus on the here and now.
Who knows, maybe in the future when my career is finished I’ll look back on moments like this and think ‘You’ve done well there, Viv’ - but right now, I don’t feel like that.
It’s my job to do what’s needed for Arsenal and I’ve got another job to do on Sunday.
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