We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Too many times. Star player…club captain…one-man team…selling club. The words have lost all meaning.
Though I have been toughened up by so many recent experiences (or perhaps simly grown numb to the modern running of Arsenal FC) I have to, as ever, express my disappointment at Arsene Wenger and the board for allowing this to happen; to keep happening. We are a club that never seems to learn, both on the pitch and off it: the same avoidable goals conceded due to a lack of defensive discipline and organisation; the same avoidable loss of our best players.
Once again, we didn’t get an obvious talent signed up to a long-term deal. Since van Persie released his statement, much of the focus from Arsenal fans – and indeed many pundits and journalists – has been on the fact that before last season the Dutchman never completed a season without one or more lengthy injuries, so how were we to know whether or not he was worth tying down to a new deal? Someone made the comparison with Mathieu Flamini – who happened to enjoy his best season in an Arsenal shirt in the last year of his contract, before being lured away by an attractive move to AC Milan.
There’s no doubt that van Persie’s injury record for the first six years of his Gunners career was terrible. However, after over a year and a half now without even the slightest niggle, quite a feat for most players, doesn’t it show that injuries are, more often than not, down to luck? In RvP’s case, he was often on the end of bad challenges in meaningless international friendlies, not exactly something he or anyone else can do anything about.
Even with most of every season spent in the treatment room, his short time on the pitch always displayed a tremendous ability that was surely worth investing in. His goal-scoring record was good in his limited appearances, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who always felt he was worth waiting for. Wenger is the man who works closest with these players, and – we can only assume – plays a large part in contract negotiations. How is it that a man, who so often likes to promote from within to save money on transfer fees, didn’t see it worth investing in the potential of the ridiculously unlucky Dutch striker? If indeed it was as it was with Flamini – that Wenger did not see a future at the club for him before a blistering campaign that took everyone by surprise – then what does that say about our manager’s famed ability to judge talent and potential talent? Remember: this is the same man who has shown incredible patience and faith in Abou Diaby, someone who looks like far more of a lost cause fitness-wise, and far less worthy of a first-team place even at the top of his game.
Our wage structure also came under scrutiny last season when the wage bill was leaked by various blogs. There is no doubt that there is a problem with the way the club manages its players in this respect. Van Persie may well be a money-hungry Judas with his eyes on doubled wages at Manchester City, but perhaps we would have more money to put into the wages of our top players if we didn’t hand out £60k a week to the likes of Walcott, Bendtner, Squillaci, Almunia and Denilson. Note that Denilson has just renewed his loan spell at Sao Paulo for another season – we simply cannot get rid of him because of his high wages; Wenger didn’t have any trouble getting this little protege tied down to a long-term deal did he?
Once again, I truly believe Arsenal will survive this. People called us a one-man team last season due to our reliance on van Persie’s goals – a common oversimplification in football; one player who happens to play furthest up the pitch is getting on the end of all the moves and tapping the ball into the net so he must be the best. Obviously this is not the case, even if some players are better at it than others. As well as RvP, the success stories of last season were new signing Mikel Arteta, as well as improved consistency from the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. Don’t forget that even when we were winning things and breaking unbeaten records people said we were a one-man team because of our reliance of Thierry Henry for the goals. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a quality striker who scores the goals that tend to make the headlines, of course the simpler of football fans are going to ignore the more subtle hard work of others. There are probably some who say Barcelona are a one-man team because Messi scored 73 goals last season, even though so many of his Spanish team-mates have also been dominating the international scene without him.
Arsenal have already been preparing for van Persie’s exit with the signings of Podolski and Giroud. While it’s always hard to know how players will do in their first seasons at new clubs, and indeed new leagues, these are big-names by Arsenal standards, with proven records. While I don’t exactly think they’ll fire us to the title and I’d so much rather see them play WITH van Persie than without, at least for once we have done our transfer business early. I also recently argued Nicklas Bendtner’s case for a place in the team next season and perhaps he now might fancy his chances and stick around a little longer. There is not too much need to go rushing out and buying a striker, although if Wenger feels like paying big money for a Cavani or a Falcao I can’t say I’d mind!
Player-wise, Arsenal will adapt; they always do. Last season they suffered an abnormally bad start that will hopefully not be repeated. Several of the team’s players should be even better than last year, and if we can get Jack Wilshere back to his best, we will arguably be better than the RvP-led team of 2011/12.
I’m perhaps more concerned about how we replace van Persie as a captain. No obvious candidate from the squad stands out at all: Vermaelen has also had injury problems and hasn’t been here long enough; Song is still quite young and doesn’t strike one as a natural leader; Szczesny has the personality but is probably too young. In terms of leading by example, Arteta seems to fit the bill, but due to his age is not a long-term option, and again has not been here long enough for me. Rosicky and Diaby are now our longest-serving players and that speaks for itself.
All this points to Bacary Sagna – a natural winner, hard-working and committed, and generally not too injury-prone, despite some unfortunate problems last season. He’s not ideal, he’s not the loudest or in the best position from which to take a game by the scruff of the neck, but then none of this is chopping and changing of captains so often is ideal, so we’ll have to make do. If Wilshere comes back strongly from his injury, he will surely one day be the long-term captain for the club.
To conclude, I want to say I don’t hold too many ill-feelings towards van Persie. I’m not one to get too attached to footballers anyway. If you build them up to believe most of them are in it for anything but as much money/success (delete as appropriate) as possible you’re kidding yourself – players are not fans the way we are. Ashley Cole supported Arsenal his whole life, but went to Chelsea for money and trophies. While he should never have gone public about it, what have the manager and the board done in recent years to show our star players that they can lift silverware here?
Van Persie is, and always has been, a superbly talented player. He’s nearly 29 and he hasn’t won anything, so good luck to him in the final few years of his career. All I hope for really is that he doesn’t go to another English club. Go and win some La Ligas or Scudettos, and thanks for the memories, Robin.