Thoughts On Robin van PersiePosted: July 3, 2012
Transfer season is well and truly upon us once more. If every new day did not start horribly enough with having to wake up in the single digit hours, the newspapers, short on filler material, inundate us all with whispers about potential incomings and outgoings. Then many Arsenal fans on Twitter take their (typically negative) bored scribblings for something much deeper and launch into a tirade or two about them, prompting a grand debate. Alternatively, Arsenal are mentioned in the same article or tweet as a player and all of a sudden he is set to sign. It is trying to follow it but as Twitter can be a fantastic news source for such things, it is worth persevering with, all the same.
It is usually easy enough to ignore the nonsense, but one unavoidable topic is the incessant talk surrounding the future of Robin van Persie. He has one year remaining on his current contract and Manchester City and Juventus are, if reports are to be believed, interested in him. Naturally, this is to the dismay and fear of almost all Arsenal supporters (and those who claim otherwise are probably lying). But, as I can tell you are all interested in the extreme in my opinion, I have decided to note down some thoughts on the Dutchman as a player and on the situation at hand.
‘Footballistically’, what would you expect me to say, as an Arsenal fan and an owner of two shirts with ‘van Persie’ emblazoned on the back? Especially given his magnificent last 18 months; he is an outstanding and unique footballer. He has perfected the ‘9 and a half’ role, managing to perform the duties of both a genuine ‘9’ and a ‘false 9′. His wonderfully intelligent off-the-ball movement enables his style and is instrumental to Arsenal’s own style: just watching him it is interesting to see how deep he drops to collect the ball, dragging defenders out of position and creating space behind them for the rest of the team. His 9 league assists and average of 2.4 key passes per game through 11/12 show his ability as a quasi-creator, while playing in the traditional centre forward position.
While making chances for others, he has become quite adept at taking his own goalscoring opportunities. He scored, as you will most likely be aware, 37 goals in 47 games in all competitions last season, with 30 of those coming in his 38 league appearances, as well as having joined the list of Arsenal centurions back in September, scoring his 100th goal against Bolton. He now stands as the 8th highest scorer in the club’s history. He carried the team at many points in his phenomenal last season and in the process gained recognition from his fellow professionals and the Football Writers’ Association, picking up both awards. He is nothing short of marvellous. At the start of the year, many questioned whether he would make a good captain; although the importance of the armband can be overstated (and is, here in England), he flourished with the added responsibility of leading a team slung together at the transfer windows’ end, while recovering from the losses of two extremely influential players, in Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri, and its horrendous start.
The ‘one man team’ argument is one that has been thrown at Arsenal an awful lot of late – well, I say argument; generally arguments are well constructed and logical, going beyond ‘he scores all your goals lol’ – and though it is obvious that he is the team’s best and most influential player, his experience with the Dutch national team should have been instructive for him. He has thrived as the ‘main man’ for the last season and a half in a system filled with players to get the best from him which, quite evidently, it does. He has had an idyll created for him in North London – one which he would not necessarily find elsewhere. He is an adaptable and highly intelligent player and the difficulties at EURO 2012 were not his own, so much as the squad’s as a whole. He is far too good not to be a highly successful player if he leaves, but it would be probably be unrealistic to expect a similar level of form immediately.
On the subject of the highly persistent ongoing speculation, there are a variety of possibilities. By far the most preferable option is that he signs a new contract, committing himself to the club. Another is that he sees out the last year of his contract, perhaps signing on later, perhaps leaving for nothing at its end. Then there is a far worse possibility of him potentially moving abroad, with holy grail of terrible possible eventualities coming in the form of a potential move to Manchester City. If he does not sign on this summer, Arsenal can either sell him in order to assure they get some sort of fee for him, or hold him to that final year with the vague chance he may re-commit during the season.
After having lost or sold so many players of note in recent years, adding van Persie to that list, especially given the season he has had, would send a terrible message from the club’s perspective, essentially confirming the jibe that they have become a ‘selling club’. In the long list of reasons to keep him, new contract or not, saving face, somewhat bizarrely, has to be quite high on the list. Losing him would paint a picture of a club going backwards, which most would agree Arsenal did last summer. And it would be one thing to lose him to an overseas team, hence not directly re-damaging the club by aiding their rivals, but to lose him to City would be catastrophic for their reputation and handing them their best player would be similarly disastrous for their attempts to climb back up towards the heights which City have purchased for themselves. They cannot let him go to City at any costs. Unless he is adamant he wants the move and will go to the same lengths as his predecessor of the role of captain to get it, Arsenal should not sell; it would be better to lose him on a free next year than to pick up £25,000,000 for him now, for the reasons previously stated. He does not come across as the kind of character who would strike in order to get his way, but then again, neither did Fàbregas, to many of us. He is so integral to Arsenal’s way of playing that they would need to adjust their system for his replacement, unless that replacement were Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski (the only other ‘9.5s’ which come to mind) or Lionel Messi which, let’s face it, are both quite far along on the ‘unlikely’ scale. If he does not sign but does stay the year ahead can be used to lay the foundations for the new side that must be created, allowing them time to prepare for a life without him.
At this stage, no one seems to know anything. Van Persie himself is on holiday, with talks set to resume upon his return. He has been a follower of Arsenal since childhood and has a family who appear to be very settled in London. His wife has spoken of her happiness in the capital and both his parents have said separately in interviews that they would prefer him to stay. If it is true he wants the club to show ambition, he is getting his wish: Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have been signed and it is almost certain that others will follow suit. The club are doing what they can to convince him to stay. Now it is on him to decide.
He is not the perfect striker: he lead the table in most clear cut goalscoring opportunities missed for the 11/12, with 25, but he is about as close we will get before the ‘finished article’ himself comes along (Lionel Messi does not count as a striker, because he isn’t one). He does not owe Arsenal for sticking with him through his injury-stricken years, per se – a lot of that faith has been repaid over the last year. He does, however, owe Arsenal at least another year of service, as he signed up for it. And he owes Arsène Wenger for making him who he is. Unless his actions make selling the only viable avenue, they cannot let him go.
All stats via WhoScored.com