Recently published articles, some by professional sports journalists and many by amateur bloggers, have theorized, with virtually no supporting data whatsoever, that Robin van Persie is preparing to depart Arsenal for another club (i.e., Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, etc.) If you don’t believe me, just try typing the phrase “Robin van Persie” into the Google search engine, and the words “transfer rumours” are all over the place. My own cumulative Web-based research has produced scant evidence to support either side of the two arguments (“Will he stay?” versus “Will he leave?”), but I am convinced the rumours regarding his departure are merely speculation at best, wild conspiracy theories at worst. RVP definitely isn’t talking–but that should come as no real surprise. As the epitome of sportmanship and professionalism, van Persie is loathe to brag about himself or discuss the teams attempting to court him with their offers of untold fame and fortune.
“I’ve got 31 goals this season. I can’t believe it, It is the first time in a season I have scored this many – and 25 league goals, it is just insane. But I have to thank my colleagues because without them I am nothing and they are a massive help.” – Robin van Persie.
Now that’s what I call humility. For a player considered by many to be the very best in Barclay’s Premier League and perhaps, arguably, the greatest pure striker in the entire world, our hero RVP has displayed a level of sportsmanship not often affiliated with professional footballers. Rather than talking himself up incessantly and making excuses when he fails to live up to the hype, he goes to work every day with the single-minded focus and work ethic worthy of emulation.
On Saturday morning, Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2-1 and temporarily moved into the coveted fourth place. Like many dyed-in-the-wool Gooners, I basically chewed my fingernails off within the first few minutes of play, desperate as I was for a win. When Liverpool appeared to be dominating the field, a miracle seemed necessary for Arsenal to escape with the much-needed win. Turns out that it wasn’t a miracle that we needed, after all. We just needed the Gunners to play like…Well, the Gunners they could/should have been all along. I’ve never been one to put my trust in fate nor pure luck, and I just knew that sooner or later, the team would show up playing the way Arsene continually stated they would…Eventually. Turns out the team couldn’t alter its destiny in time, but better late than never, in my opinion. Qualifying for the Champions League is certainly better than ending the season empty-handed AND humiliated.
Whereas Liverpool was the superior team on the pitch for much of the game on Saturday, the Gunners’ confidence was significantly boosted by the first goal by Robin van Persie, a perfectly-timed and expertly-placed header that strengthened the team’s confidence and put a little extra pep in their collective step. It didn’t hurt that the goaltender was displaying acrobatic-acts of pure gymnastic prowess not seen beyond Cirque du Soleil. Upon the second score, also by van Persie, I jumped to my feet and clapped, then collapsed onto my couch and groaned despite myself. Why, you may ask? I groaned because of the realization that Arsenal can’t seem to put the ball in the net unless it’s the team’s captain getting the job done. The whole team celebrates, and rightfully so, but the fact remains Arsenal needs Robin van Persie. And we might not have him around much longer.
After the match, it has been reported that Robin van Persie returned to the pitch to take some pictures. One might wonder why he wanted to permanently record the location, though it wouldn’t be inappropriate to speculate should one desire to. Frankly, I take a lot of pictures, and sometimes, a picture is just a picture, nothing more. Then again, there’s a conspiracy theorist in all of us, just yearning to come out, and the rumour mill goes into maximum over-drive with even the smallest action on the part of someone in the glare of the media spot-light. There’s at least a small chance van Persie knew he would never return to Liverpool’s stadium or it may have been a tangible means by which to say good-bye, of bidding just one of many English stadiums a fond farewell. Or it might have just been a picture.
Arsene Wenger has his work cut out for him if he wants Robin van Persie to stick around. In the eyes of many die-hard gooners, this season has already been nothing short of disastrous, and the departure of the Dutch striker would simply be a fitting end, a final nail in the proverbial coffin, as it were. As is often the case, there is a bit of insult added to the injury when you believe the problems could have been avoided with a little intelligence, creativity, and imagination. It hurts to admit you were out-played, but it’s something far worse indeed to make incessant excuses to dismiss a loss as inconsequential.
Arsene, for his part, has frequently displayed what could be described as a tone-deafness to outside influences, and even as fans ranted and raved for him to make the necessary changes when it was most crucial to do so, Arsene stuck with his own strategy. Again and again, Wenger asked the fans to trust him, just as he encouraged his players to do the same. I trusted him then, and defended him, and I continue to do so lest I be lumped in with the fair-weather types who have been seen shopping for Manchester City kit. Wenger assured us all that he had things under control, that the season would turn around, that the desired goals would ultimately be achieved, albeit delayed.
Again and again, Wenger has talked and acted as if losses were insignificant, but once the losses began to accumulate, even he seemed to lose his confidence–in himself and his own judgment if not in the team. Now, on the verge of going head-to-head with AC Milan on Tuesday night, Arsene is describing Arsenal’s efforts in almost cosmic-level terms, setting up the Gunners as the underdog.
“We want to make the impossible possible. That is basically our target. When we played Liverpool at the start of the season it was a bit of a shambles. We were in a bit of disarray because we had a full transfer period and we were unstable. We have since come back into a much better position and are much more solid. At the time we last played Liverpool we were 17th in the league so we had, first of all, room for improvement and I think we have improved a lot.”
Surely, there is already a tremendous amount of pressure on Wenger to persuade RVP to stay. That pressure is increased exponentially as van Persie continues to impress. Wenger seems to pay tribute to him in the most eloquent of terms, but he’s going to have to do better than offer mere praise. Van Persie needs assurances that he can be a champion, and he needs to believe that it can happen when he is wearing the Arsenal uniform. If he perceives, for even one second, that Wenger is willing to settle for mediocrity, van Persie will walk.
It is now a relatively well known fact that Arsene has a hefty amount of cash to throw around this summer, more than enough to bolster van Persie on the attack. Several players worth considering have been identified in the media, and I for one have done what I could to name names. Nevertheless, I have serious concerns that Arsenal’s probability for success will be improved should Arsene fail to make van Persie an offer he can’t refuse. Wilshere’s return will do little if RVP leaves town. Our team’s captain may be expensive, and his price tag may be increasing with each goal, but he’s worth every bit of what he’s asking for. If Arsene let’s him go, he’s going to regret it…And the fans will never, ever forgive him. Arsene has already more than exhausted the patience of Gooner Nation.
Robin van Persie’s current contract is set to expire in fifteen months (not this summer as some have erroneously stated.) I say we keep him around a wee bit longer than that. How about…I don’t know…Forever? Fans that have been hyper-critical of Wenger need only exercise patience–we will have an answer concerning RVP’s future, and soon. Inevitably, Wenger’s going to have to tell van Persie what he’s going to do to increase the probability of securing a cup, and that’s going to require a strategy for building the team into something championship-calibre. Arsene’s answer to that question, if good enough for RVP, should be good enough for the rest of us.
Arsenal.com recently quoted Arsene Wenger waxing eloquent about van Persie, assuring anxious fans that the goal-scoring phenom feels no pressure to score:
“No [he doesn't feel the pressure], as long as he scores regularly…I always tell him ‘don’t feel that you have to absolutely score in every game – other players can score. Focus just on your game.’ He lives well with it but of course it is easy to live well with it when you score in every game and that is what is happening to him at the moment…We have players who deliver fantastic numbers of assists – I think Gervinho and Walcott are among the best providers in the world if you look at the number of assists. But I know there are more goals in them and I am sure from midfield we need some goals as well. They will be welcome tomorrow. We have seen as well that Walcott can score against Tottenham. He is a good finisher – if he finds himself in good positions, he will score.”
Despite the fact it is a relief that van Persie isn’t personally feeling the pressure, it stands to reason that he would like a little more support. If he’s not feeling the pressure now, which is hard enough to believe as it is, he certainly will soon. With much of the team on the side-lines due to injuries or illness, there’s going to be more pressure on the team captain than any other time in recent memory.
I stumbled upon an article that reinforced the notion that even Wenger believes in miracles when the odds are against Arsenal. He was quoted as saying the following:
“When you are a top-level competitor, even if statistically we have a 5% chance, what is important is that we believe that we can be in this 5%. That is what is at stake for us. Let’s make sure that we do not miss out because we did not believe in it.”
It’s not going to take a miracle to convince Robin van Persie to stay. Then again, it’s going to take more than dumb luck or empty platitudes. Wenger claims he can go with any formation imaginable to make up for current injuries. The only formation I don’t want to imagine is the one without RVP in it.