Wednesday, August 15, 2012

For the Second Year Running, Arsenal Lose Their Best Player Just Before the Season Begins

Pending agreement of personal terms, Robin van Persie is heading northeast to the beautiful city of Manchester, where he reportedly will earn roughly twice his already princely Arsenal salary. (Who among us would not be tempted by such a financial improvement, let alone the increased likelihood of winning titles?) Man United are among the teams (Man City and Chelsea being the others in the EPL) that spend like drunken sailors. Arsenal are like the sober and disgruntled uncle, chiding them but envying their success.

A front line of RvP and Wayne Rooney is a formidable prospect (especially when compared to a presumptive Arsenal front line of Podolski and Giroud). If van Persie can give the Red Devils even an approximation of what he gave the Gunners last year, he'll be worth every penny and probably help Man U win the title. But the if is huge. Now aged 29, van Persie has managed only one complete season without missing several games  because of  injury - though what a season it was! - in eight at the Emirates. United, however, are deep enough to give him more games off, which might help him remain healthy. In short, it's difficult to see how this is not a great coup for Alex Ferguson & Co., and a real blow to Arsene Wenger and the rest of the Gunners.  It is yet more evidence that Arsenal have been relegated to the position of a feeder club for the financially elite clubs, which include both Manchester Clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and apparently now Paris-St. Germain.

For the second year in a row, Arsenal have lost their team leader and best overall player just before the start of the season. And the fact that van Persie's going to a rival Premier League contender, Manchester United (at least it's not City!), makes it all the harder to swallow for Gunners' fans. At least this year Wenger planned ahead and brought in a proven goal-scorer in Lucas Podolski, a  rising young striker in Olivier Giroud, and a gifted winger in Santi Cazorla, who can also get his goals. Consequently, Arsenal start this season (on Saturday) in much better shape than last season. This time around, they shouldn't find themselves in a deep hole before the end of August, needing to add emergency reinforcements just before the signing deadline. It's entirely possible, however, that Arsene Wenger will look to sign one more player - but only the right player - with the funds received from the van Persie transfer.

We can only hope Alex Song doesn't add to the list of emigrants from the Emirates, by following the media rumors to Barcelona. He's one player for whom Wenger has no replacement at present. More generally, Arsenal need to adjust their salary structure to the realities of the modern game, however distasteful to Mr. Wenger. If they don't, they will become a perennial also-ran, whose main function is to train-up great prospects for the benefit of other, bigger-spending clubs.

Finally, I wonder whether van Persie asked Dennis Bergkamp what he would have done in the circumstances. I can't help but think that Bergkamp, whose boots RvP still can only dream of filling, would have made a different decision.

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