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Arsenal sell Robin van Persie, but have they sold their soul?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he had no choice but to sell Robin van Persie. Photo credit: Phil Cole/PA wire Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he had no choice but to sell Robin van Persie. Photo credit: Phil Cole/PA wire

Thursday, August 16, 2012
8:29 AM

The Emirates has lost its jewel, but Arsene Wenger has been here before

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If there is any salvation to be had for Arsenal fans, it is surely that it is over. Robin van Persie’s move to Manchester United has put an abrupt end to a summer of speculation that has threatened to engulf the Emirates and whatever plans Arsene Wenger had for the season ahead.

This is not just a story that has lasted all summer, it has lasted since last September when Van Persie effectively put a ticking timebomb under Arsenal’s future by saying he wasn’t going to consider signing a new contract until the following summer.

For the rest of last season, a campaign in which Van Persie scored goals with a consistency and brilliance that he is unlikely to ever repeat, the scenario that has unfolded this summer was one that would not go away for Arsenal fans.

The Dutchman’s career at Arsenal had not been straightforward. He arrived as a precociously-talented but volatile 21-year-old in 2004 and spent the first two years in the shadow of the Invincibles, and in particular of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.

Bergkamp left in 2006 and Henry a year later and Van Persie seemed the natural successor to providing the finishing touch to Arsenal’s gilded game, but injury was to haunt him.

Large chunks of the following three seasons were lost, and when Van Persie was crocked again after the 2010 World Cup, many at Arsenal were ready to give up on him.

Arsene Wenger was not among them, and was rewarded for his patience by the Dutchman’s astonishing form since returning to Premier League action in January 2011 – 48 league goals for the Gunners in 58 games.

But there were times last season when he knew he was carrying this side, when he knew he was the star turn in an otherwise flawed outfit. There were times when even his prolific goals weren’t enough to help the team rise above the mediocrity, even if Arsenal did eventually scrape into third place.

He had made his mind up that he wanted to go, but the location was the question. Selling him to United was clearly not Arsenal’s preferred choice, but ultimately the reality in the current footballing landscape is that the Premier League is where the money is, and more specifically, Manchester.

Chelsea already have a £50m striker trying to justify his exorbitant fee, so it was United or City for Van Persie, and United were the bigger pull.

In personal terms the move was a no-brainer. Van Persie has been given a four-year deal at Old Trafford on a huge salary and, while there are no guarantees, a better chance of winning the medals he craves and that are undeniably missing from the career of an unquestionably talented player.

Should loyalty to Arsenal and to Wenger be a factor? That is the romantic view, but it is also an old-fashioned one. Wenger stood by Van Persie through personal problems, injury problems, and loss of form. This time last year he made him captain of Arsenal, and the team played around him.

Those are two things that will not happen at United. Wayne Rooney is the main man at Old Trafford, and in Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs Van Persie has team-mates who are living legends at the club. He will have to get used to being just another player, and one who has to prove himself all over again.

Whether he does or not is United’s concern. The big question for those in N5 is where does it leave Arsenal. Clearly, unlike last summer, Wenger could see the writing on the wall and has reacted first this time, bringing in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud as striking options, and Santi Cazorla to provide creative ammunition.

The pressure and expectation will now be that Wenger reinvests the Van Persie cash in the next fortnight before the transfer window closes. But on who?

Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao is available, while Wenger has always been a fan of Radamel Falcao, the exciting Colombian who used to bang in goals for fun at Porto and carried on doing so last season in La Liga after being asked to fill the not inconsiderable scoring boots of Sergio Aguero at Atletico Madrid.

Wenger may feel he has sufficient options in Podolski and Giroud, given that Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott will all offer a goal threat, not to mention Cazorla.

The impact of Van Persie’s departure on other players in the squad must also be taken into account. Arsenal are yet to tie Walcott down to a new contract, and now have the money available to perhaps satisfy the player’s increased demands. So too Alex Song, the subject of interest from Barcelona this week.

But will those players feel the Emirates is a place worth staying? Following hard on the heels of the exits of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas last summer, the accusation that Arsenal no longer dine at the top table is one that is hard to argue against when you add to it the small matter of seven years without a trophy.

On the positive side, as mentioned above, at least it has happened now. Arsenal know where they stand with the season ahead of them, and still have the power and financial muscle to bring in a stellar signing of their own.

And having endured more than six years of Van Persie being a frustratingly inconsistent, injury-prone player, there is always the chance that the best year of his career is the one he has just had, and that pocketing £24m for a player approaching 30 is something of a steal.

However, despite all the undoubted brilliance of Wenger’s alchemy over the years, and his reluctance to spend big, if he chooses not reinvest the funds received for Van Persie now, the backlash if Arsenal start the season poorly again could be too great for even him to withstand.

But the mantra is always that no player is bigger than the club, and it has often proven so. In the last decade alone Arsenal have survived losing captains like Tony Adams, like Patrick Vieira, as well as Bergkamp, Henry and Fabregas. Compared to some of those names, Van Persie is a player that Arsenal would have preferred to keep, but one whose departure they can, and will, survive.

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