Robin van Persie: Better Late than Never


Robin van Persie in action against Swansea City

I wanted to start this with a comparison, another Premier League transfer comparable to that of Robin van Persie to Manchester United in terms of scale and impact on both clubs, but I struggled to find anything appropriate.

Tottenham weren’t quite at the same level as Arsenal when Dimitar Berbatov left for United. Alan Shearer’s move from Blackburn to Newcastle was tempered in its impact by the hometown club element. Even Samir Nasri’s decision to trade London for Manchester last summer is separated from van Persie’s by virtue of the Frenchman having had a far less enduring impact on the club than his Dutch team-mate.

Whatever way you look at it, the transfer is tough to take for Arsenal fans.

This is a player who has been with the club for eight years, and is part of an ever-decreasing circle of those who have had a fair glimpse of glory, be it through the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2006 or even the Carling Cup final the following year.

Then, of course, you have his contribution to the here and now. 30 league goals last season made van Persie less dispensable than at arguably any other time in his Arsenal career, although a portion of this may be down to the relative paucity of the attacking talent that surrounded him over the last 12 months.

Sure, measures have been taken to rectify this gulf in the close-season, and many rightfully interpreted the arrival of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla as a precursor to the former Feyenoord man’s exit. The outraged minority (I’m looking at you, Piers) may however continue to propagate the image of Abramovich-era football as an entertainment of immediacy. Having been offered multiple carrots in the years since the superfood salad of an unbeaten 2003/04 season, there are plenty who lack the patience to favour a long-term model in comparison to a quantifiable improvement over the prior campaign.

This, of course, is by no means limited to Arsenal – you need look no further than the treatment of several of Jose Mourinho’s successors at Chelsea for another even more extreme example – but this seems ironic given van Persie’s imminent destination.

It is difficult to argue that United’s patience with manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his early years in the job, when he was lacking in two varieties of title, would be tolerated in the modern era. However that patience has played a major role in the club reaching its current level and, yes, being in a position where they are able to entice a player of van Persie’s calibre.

While the financial gap between Champions League and the rest hinders the case for blind faith, there remains an argument for the trusting middle-ground common to Arsenal fans over the years but from which a proportion of the Emirates faithful is beginning to distance itself.

Part of Ferguson’s success has come from demolishing and rebuilding empires when he begins to see the pieces falling, to the point where four-year cycles often replicate those of international sides’ World Cup campaigns when it comes to changes of style as well as raw materials. With this in mind, the exit of van Persie could have another hidden benefit.

His departure almost forces Arsene Wenger’s hand, requiring the manager to mould a playing style which fits his new and expensively-assembled forward line, rather than having the luxury on being able to fall back on the goals of his talisman to achieve what is required. Indeed, with some arguing that van Persie is unlikely to have more than two more years of blistering form ahead of him, the striker remaining at Arsenal could well have had an even more detrimental effect were he to leave further down the line with money having already been wasted on an elaborate plan B.

One element of the saga I have not touched upon is the allegations of ‘lack of ambition’ leveled at van Persie by certain Arsenal fans. For the pure ridiculousness of this statement, I will leave it untouched.