“The bottom line is that I want to win trophies with Arsenal, not with anybody else. I know you can win trophies in many countries and in many ways, but I want to do that in our way and in an Arsenal shirt”; the words of Robin Van Persie in February 2011. Now in August 2012, he has moved to bitter rivals Manchester United. The change in mind state of him sets the tone of the complex scenarios that the move could bring which I will analyse. Why did the move happen? More importantly whom exactly could the move benefit the most?
Though a move to Manchester United was a possibility since he announced that he would not sign a new contract at Arsenal, it was still a surprise once the move was confirmed. The fact Van Persie had made public that he felt the club and himself didn’t share the same ambitions, he had now made it extremely complicated to relate to the devout Arsenal fan. Even if he had decided to do a Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney style u-turn and stay, it arguably could never have been completely the same. So realistically he had to go.
As big a club as United are, the move to an extent could in a strange way be a humbling realisation for the Premier League Golden Boot winner. It seems the only comprehensive interest came from United. Juventus made a bid that could only be ridiculed, whereas Manchester City refrained away from their initial pursuit for whatever reason. Though this would have angered Arsenal fans if he went there, they would have preferred City to be his destination than United, as City have only come to superiority since they were taken over by Arab owners. A lot of people thought this could have been his destination, thus following Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy. There was talk of big spenders Anzhi from Russia and Paris Saint Germain, but it didn’t seem too intense. With the confidence and arrogance he had been playing with since staying clear of injury, he probably expected more teams to be in the fold for him. Barcelona and Real Madrid didn’t seem to come calling, the likes of AC & Inter Milan frankly didn’t have the money to get him. So it seemed after all the commotion United was the only concrete option he surprisingly had.
The fee you have to say is great business by Arsene Wenger, but then again he is renowned for making profit in the transfer market anyway. 24 million pounds, for a player he bought for £2.75 million from Feyenoord in 2004. A player who recently turned 29 years old; a player who is known to be injury prone.
Though good business it does little to appease the perspective of an avid Arsenal fan. This is by the fact he has gone to their biggest enemy Manchester United. This is unforgivable to the third power. Yes, Tottenham provide the savagely emotional local rivalry, but they haven’t been fighting with Arsenal for several League Championships. Spurs haven’t knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League, or come to Highbury or the Emirates Stadium and given them a battering. The fact is though some Arsenal fans will hate Spurs more; realistically they haven’t always been directly relevant to Arsenal other than geographically. So in that case there is arguably no team Arsenal fans dislike more than Manchester United. In actuality, they are not the only set of fans that will say they display this antipathy towards United either. So this transfer leaves a bitter taste, possibly not even just in the mouth of Arsenal fans.
That is how incredibly deep this transfer is. Why?, you ask. Because Van Persie is a world class footballer and this means United have uber-strengthened, if you despise a team, then why would you want them to improve?
United fans that I know have taken the news differently and created quite complex hypothesis. Some are extremely happy as expected, when you sign a player with the quality that Van Persie has. A few are sceptical, as they know the Dutchman has spent a lot of his career in England on the treatment table. At 29, they feel if he was to be seriously injured, then he may not have the time to ever pay back the fee because of the lack of time. Therefore they feel the overall price was too high, as he only had one year left on his contract and feel maybe another area of the pitch could’ve been upgraded with the money. Understandably, a few are still quite upset at missing out on Brazilian Lucas Moura to Paris Saint German.
Overwhelmingly though, the reason why United fans question the deal is that they are now confused at what formation Alex Ferguson will play with and how this could effect the growth of Danny Welbeck. You don’t play 24 million pounds to sit someone on the bench, therefore Van Persie goes straight into the line-up to play in a central striking roll that supporters thought Wayne Rooney would occupy. With Shinji Kagawa being bought and obviously the pursuit of Moura (though they did not get him), fans were living in hope the team was slightly changing shape and Rooney would be able to stay up top in more games than having to drop deep to create.
Wherever Rooney is used, it almost certainly takes Welbeck out of the starting line up with the purchase of Van Persie.
Welbeck is a full England international and knows that he needs sufficient playing time to maintain a starting place for England. He will obviously be used, but at first look, possibly not as much. He can’t dislodge Rooney or Van Persie in a 4-4-2. In a 4-3-3, he may be asked to play slightly wider than he would like, a role where England would be unlikely to use him and he would be unlikely to use his strength’s to the fullest. His team-mate Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and dare I say Stuart Downing (I do dare), would be more viable in such areas .
United came second last season and flattered to deceive through a decent amount of the campaign. So in a utopian world, on paper anyway, the addition of Van Persie means they will win the league. Realistically though as Rooney and Van Persie occupy similar areas of the pitch when doing their work, they have upgraded from Rooney in the main striking position. This is as I believe Van Persie is better from an attacking perspective. Rooney may give more tracking back, some may argue, but if United scored more goals last season they would have won the league. The likelihood is, Van Persie will swallow up a decent amount of Rooney’s goals as Rooney will drop deeper. Yes, the pair of them can interchange, but as Rooney, at times (more than Van Persie), feels the urgency to always be involved in the game, Van Persie is likely to spend more time in the box. Whether United should have gone for Wesley Sneijder again instead of Van Persie, remains to be seen.
Now to Arsenal. Will they sit on the money, or try to boost their firepower? Early signs suggest Wenger may still be restricted to shooting blanks by his board, or should that be his accountants. With the creativity they have already at their disposal, it would make sense if they went for a finisher. Aston Villa’s Darren Bent is a proven goalscorer but it’s unlikely they would go English, especially at the price he would cost. Spurs are even more unlikely to sell Jermain Defoe to an English rival, he would actually be more likely to be sold to Aston Villa.
Therefore, I feel they should go for Van Persie’s fellow countryman Klass-Jan Huntelaar, a natural finisher, gobbling up goals in the Bundesliga for Schalke, restoring his credibility after being sold by Real Madrid & Milan, to summarise, a ‘Klass-act’.
They could get him for 16 or 17 million pounds possibly. With Arsenal’s ability to get goals from various different players, then who knows with this one extra addition, they could be alright. If not they need Lukas Podolski & Olivier Giroud to hit the ground running, otherwise there could be issues.
With all the different complexities taken into consideration, it may be that neither club benefits the most. It could be an individual and that person is none other than Van Persie himself, the new ‘Judas’. If he doesn’t succeed at the club he claims is ‘perfect’ for him then he can assert that it was due to the playing style similarities he had with Rooney and that overlap of abilities didn’t work out. On the other hand if he were to pick up an injury then only United could be blamed. They knew his history. Whatever happens on the playing side of things, this player verging on 30 has dramatically improved his wages, not many players get the opportunity to do this. Though he will get a severe backlash from Arsenal fans, he will have graced another one of the world’s biggest teams when he hangs up his boots. Ladies and gentleman, it’s as simple as that.
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