Perhaps worse even than the sight of talismanic striker and captain playing in the red of Manchester United, is the fact that our long-standing rival Ferguson felt he could make a bid at all. If it wasn’t already pretty clear, it is now official: we are not the rivals we used to be.
It almost seems silly to say, as we have barely challenged the Old Trafford club in the last seven years, but there remained the faint, if dimming, hope that we would work our way back to the big time eventually and win some trophies at their expense. That could still happen, of course – with or without Robin van Persie, but were he to move from Arsenal to Manchester United, one feels the symbolic statement of this move alone could signal the death of our club as a major force.
As I said, the fact that Fergie even made a bid speaks volumes about how he sees us now: a lesser team whose best players can be lured away, not so different from signing Dimitar Berbatov from Spurs or Ashley Young from Aston Villa. Never in the days of the Invincibles would they dare put in an offer for Henry, Pires or Vieira; I doubt the thought would even occur to them. Even though Chelsea finished 6th, United are hardly going to bother enquiring about Lampard or Terry.
Unlike in Italy, the big clubs in England very rarely sell to each other – certainly not their best players; meaning, if we sell van Persie to United it might well be the final nail in the coffin as far as calling ourselves a big club goes.
Of course, some would argue that this is old news and we already stooped this low with the sales of Ashley Cole to Chelsea, or of numerous players to Manchester City. I say there’s a difference. The Cole situation was unique – he had been tapped up and had a specific club in mind, which destroyed his relationship with the supporters here. The promise of another talented but unhappy player in Chelsea’s William Gallas made the move possible. With City, well, you can’t really call a small club like that a rival in the same way; they have emerged from nowhere as title contenders due to the sheer luck of being fancied by their billionaire investors; they can offer more money than sense for over-rated players like Adebayor and Nasri, and we can’t really say no to that kind of money. If van Persie is the latest of our players to move to the Etihad, it would be the most painful of the lot I imagine, but it’s not the same kind of slap in the face as a move to Old Trafford.
For now, Wenger has rejected all bids so far and claims he wants to keep the Dutchman at the club. Don’t take this as anything more than him trying to get the price up. He knows as well as we do that RvP can’t and won’t stay after the comments he made about the ambition of the club. He has to say he wants to keep him to get as much money as possible for a player whose contract runs out at the end of the season. He knows City are impatient and can afford to pay now if they want to, like they did with Nasri, who also had a year remaining on his deal with us.
Wenger did, however, add some interesting quotes that suggest he wants a deal, if it happens, to happen quickly, saying: “Robin was an exceptional leader last year, but we know how much we had to fight to come third because we missed out the start of the season. After seven games we had lost four and we have learned that for us it is vital for us to focus on the start of the season rather than on any transfers.
“If the transfers happen, they happen. As long as you are at the Club you give your best for the Club and that is the only pride you can have as a football player and as a manager.
“As long as you are somewhere you give your best every day for that club. If it changes, it changes. I am convinced that Robin is like that, he is completely focused every day on his job. He loves football, he loves the game and as long as he is here he will do that.”
Unlike last year, when Fabregas messed us around a bit and ruined the start of our season, Wenger is keen to rid the club of these distractions quickly. It is true that the Cesc saga contributed to one of our worst-ever starts, and that cannot happen again. Wenger brought in Giroud and Podolski early in preparation for this, and it’s a sign that he’s learning from his mistakes. About time, you might say, but better late than never.
Follow me on Twitter @markbrus