Last week, Robin Van Persie declared it was his intention to leave Arsenal after it “became clear” that he disagreed with the Arsenal chiefs on how the club should move forward. The timing of the announcement and the manner in which it was released would perhaps have surprised and upset Arsenal fans – but in reality, the news was a dreaded expectation. Van Persie’s decision to refuse a new contract with Arsenal means that he is able to leave the club for free when his current deal expires next summer.
Shortly after the Dutchman released his ‘open letter’ to the fans – which I felt was a bizarre thing to do in itself – Arsenal made a public statement of their own, proclaiming their disappointment in their captain’s decision, but also indicating that they would make Van Persie see out his current deal with the club. How often does keeping hold of a disgruntled star work out well, though?
If Van Persie is to leave Arsenal, he will be the second Arsenal captain to leave in two seasons. Understandably, for Arsenal supporters, this is extremely troubling. Although, I don’t believe it is the apocalypse as many are suggesting.
There is no doubting the Dutchman’s world class ability. Robin Van Persie has had an outstanding season with the Gunners, scoring 30 goals in 38 Premier League games. He was voted as the PFA and Football Writer’s Player of the Year and played a hugely significant role in helping Arsenal finish 3rd in the Premier League, securing yet another season of Champions League football. But it is important to remember that Arsenal fans have been made to wait to see Van Persie in full throttle. In truth, last season was the first season in the Dutchman’s eight-year stint with Arsenal that he managed to stay injury-free. Since joining the Gunners from Feyenoord in 2004, Van Persie has had an extensive list of long-term injuries; from a broken toe to knee and ankle ligament injuries.
With one year on his current deal remaining, it surely makes sense to cash in on him now, rather than wait a year and watch him walk away for free, or even worse, force him to stay and he ends up picking up another lengthy injury. Now that would certainly be a catastrophe.
If Arsenal do sell, then they need to do so quickly. The major problem of last season, when Cesc Fabregas departed for Barcelona, was the timing of the transfer. Arsenal left it far too late, and when they did eventually give in to the wishes of their former captain, they had little time to recruit players to soften the blow of Cesc’s exit. Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta and Park Chu-Young were all arguably ‘panic buys’, only one of which was a success last season. No prizes for guessing which one.
On a positive note, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have already been signed up by Arsene Wenger. Ideally, they would have been brought in to supplement Van Persie, not as possible replacements, but both players are very good strikers and should be judged on their own merits. Giroud was instrumental in Montpellier’s almost miraculous Ligue 1 triumph last season and, of course, Lukas Podolski has been a household name for many years, racking up over 100 caps for Germany at only the age of 27.
Obviously, due to the length of Van Persie’s current contract and his age, Arsenal are unfortunately not in a position to hold clubs to ransom, but they can still expect to receive a reasonable figure for their best player. The obvious preference is usually to sell to the highest bidder, but in this case, that could mean selling to Manchester City – something, as far as Arsenal fans are concerned, that simply cannot happen.
The best solution for Arsenal would be to sell to a club abroad. Juventus have been heavily linked with a keen interest in Van Persie, but it is debatable whether they have the funds to trump up the kind of fee Arsenal should be looking for. Alternatively, there is Barcelona, who have also been linked with a move for the Arsenal captain. There was one strange rumour suggesting they would be willing to offer David Villa as part of a deal to bring Van Persie to the Catalan club. If this was actually a possibility, in Arsene Wenger’s shoes, I would bite Barca’s hand off.
Van Persie’s damning dismissal of Arsenal’s future prospects means he has crossed a point of no return. Arsenal will lose a magnificent player if they do decide to sell Van Persie, but if they re-invest the money into the playing squad, the situation for Arsenal is far less dour than it was last summer. One thing is crucial; Arsenal must act swiftly. This is one saga they cannot afford to drag on.