With just under three weeks to go until the start of the season, Arsenal yet again find themselves embroiled in a transfer saga that sees them on the verge of losing their best player. Though there has been a lot of criticism of the board’s handling of the situation by aggrieved Arsenal supporters, they have also displayed a deep resentment and even anger at van Persie’s decision to leave.
The decision to come out and publicly state his desire to leave has drawn criticism for putting Arsenal in a difficult position, though van Persie claims it came out of a desire to keep the supporters informed out of respect. Whether this was his true intention or not is impossible to determine, but it is more a question of his handling of the situation, rather than his desire to leave.
Arsenal fans have much to feel annoyed about with van Persie expressing a desire to leave their club, both in terms of losing one of the best players in the world and a feeling of ingratitude from a player who Arsenal have stood by through his various injury problems.
Some Arsenal fans have been quick to deride van Persie as a mercenary in the Samir Nasri mould, though it is difficult to imagine him moving from a club that he clearly has great love and respect for purely for more money. What is more likely, and what van Persie has alluded to, is that he wants to have a realistic chance of winning silverware and feels that Arsenal are not in a position to challenge for major honours. Arsenal supporters have cited the big-money signings of Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski this summer as a statement of the club’s intent to beat United, City and Chelsea to titles; however, these two signings alone are unlikely to be enough to overcome the dominant Manchester sides and a resurgent Chelsea side.
What appears to gall Arsenal fans more though, and that which most football fans can sympathise with, is that they feel van Persie is being disrespectful to the club that made him who he is, and that he should repay the club’s faith with a show of loyalty. While there is certainly merit in that argument, the stark reality is that van Persie has perhaps just two years left in his prime and feels that he is unlikely to win trophies at Arsenal. For a player of van Persie’s ability to finish his career with just three major trophies would be a travesty of justice and in the absence of the same affinity for the club that Steven Gerrard has for Liverpool it is unreasonable to say that van Persie should stay at Arsenal as if it were a moral obligation. That is not to say that Arsenal fans should not be aggrieved, but simply that they should appreciate the situation van Persie finds himself in. What’s more, Arsenal have been greatly rewarded for the faith they showed in van Persie and would almost certainly have finished outside the top four the last two seasons were it not for his goals.
The widely reported fact that van Persie’s goals were responsible for winning 27 of Arsenal’s points last season shows just how important he has been to securing Champions League football for the Gunners, without which they would have been unlikely to attract the likes of Podolski and Giroud and could have been facing an irreversible decline into mediocrity that Liverpool have experienced in recent years.
It is important therefore to bear in mind the extent to which van Persie has repaid Arsenal, and the fact that they will probably receive in excess of £25m for a player with only one year left on his contract and who is approaching the twilight of his career. It may hurt Arsenal fans now, but in the end Arsenal will be better off with the transfer fee and the opportunity to invest for the future in a meaningful way.