Forget Eden Hazard, Santi Cazorla, Shinji Kagawa, Oscar and the rest. Robin van Persie is set to leave Arsenal for Manchester United in a reported £24m deal, signalling what is undoubtedly the biggest Premier League transfer of the summer so far.
In many ways, it has the feel of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea eighteen months ago: fans angry at the betrayal of their talismanic striker for joining a rival club, and the ashamed acceptance of inferiority that associates the blow. Put simply, how can Arsenal expect to compete with Manchester United once more by directly strengthening them with their best player?
However, as with £50m Torres, the financial sense for the selling club involved is clear for all to see: £24m for an injury-prone 29-year-old entering the final year of his contract is undoubtedly exceptional business. That, coupled with the early business conducted by Wenger in signing Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, is what optimistic Arsenal fans will look to cling onto.
Moreover, losing a star player – and their captain, lest we forget – is not new to Arsenal fans. Just last summer it was Cesc Fabregas following years of incessant rumours; whilst the man that was supposed to replace him by stepping out of the shadows into a more central role, Samir Nasri, angered fans by departing to Manchester City.
Arsene Wenger had, of course, previously stated that Arsenal “could not pretend to be a big club”, nor an ambition one, should they lose both playmakers within one transfer window. But they did. Yet, despite desperate last-minute signings and a turbulent start to last season, they remain a Champions League club and, judging by their summer business this time around, an increasingly ambitious one. Indeed, having been here before last summer, there is a sense this time that panic may be resisted, with the fans prepared to show their manager and his signings patience and faith.
It is well-documented that Arsenal have not won a trophy since the FA Cup in 2005, in which Van Persie came off the bench to score in a penalty shoot-out against his new club. He now becomes the final Arsenal player involved that day to move on; giving Arsenal fans reason to believe a fresh start – and, more pressingly, trophies – may be imminent.
Crucial to any successful new era will be Arsenal’s incoming internationals: Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud. Combined, they scored 49 goals between them in their respective leagues last season, which should help fill the void of Van Persie’s 30-goal season, in which he scored around 40% of Arsenal’s league tally. In Santi Cazorla, Wenger looks to have finally found a delayed replacement for Fabregas, whilst the experienced Lukas Podolski should offer goals and directness from the left flank. Olivier Giroud, a striker with only two seasons of top-flight experience, arrives with the lowest reputation of the three yet, conversely, perhaps the most amount of pressure amid Van Persie’s exit. Whether he can find the right balance of adequately leading the line and scoring regularly in a stronger league remains to be seen. Regardless, Arsenal’s squad looks in better shape than last season and remaining in the top four once more should be within their capabilities.
Yet were these signings aiding Robin Van Persie, rather than replacing him, a title challenge would surely have been a realistic ambition. Instead, his departure will linger, particularly if these signings fail to hit the ground running, and finishing within the Champions League places will once again be treated as a satisfactory success. No Arsenal fan wanted to see former captains Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry or Cesc Fabregas leave. But at least they went abroad; largely out of sight and out of mind. Should Robin Van Persie avoid injury – as he did in a magnificent final eighteen months for Arsenal, in which he scored half of his total Premier League goal tally (96) – and successfully fire Manchester United to trophies ahead of Arsenal, the bitterness that is currently held towards their former Dutch idol may erupt into a more widespread contempt for all those involved in the deal.
The mixture of anger and disappointment that many Liverpool fans feel every time Fernando Torres scores in a Chelsea shirt has been smoothed by the fact it hasn’t happened too often so far, nor against his former club. Such is the cruelty of football, however, one wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if both Liverpool and Arsenal fans have to suffer in silence this season as their former icons fire their new clubs to glory. Should that occur, any defence of ‘financial sense’ will be suppressed within the back of their minds. After all, sometimes you can’t put a price on success.