Arsenal got it right with Van Persie but it’s what they do now that counts

Arsenal got it right with Van Persie but it’s what they do now that counts


By TomTom – Your SatNav around Football

On 25th June 2007 Arsenal sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona for a fee of €24 million. Arsenal had just finished fourth in the league, one place ahead of Tottenham, and had narrowly qualified for the Champions League. The season had been an unsatisfactory one and the departure of the club’s iconic talisman represented more indisputable proof that the cannons of Highbury were pointing in the wrong direction.

This morning, five years on, Arsenal fans once again feel like they’re looking down the barrel. The back pages make familiar reading except this time Robin Van Persie’s imminent move to Manchester United not only raises question marks over the club’s ability to hold on to its best players but, perhaps even more worryingly, about where Arsenal see themselves in relation to their closest rivals. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to interpret Arsenal’s selling of Van Persie as acceptance they are no longer a main player in the Premier League title race but rather a cameo part, an awkward fixture, an also-ran.

But if anyone has more regularly reveled in disproving the forecasts of mediocrity, it is Arsene Wenger. Just as a magician whisks away the handkerchief to unveil the prize, Wenger relinquishes his star players but every time produces astonishing results.

If it is personal point-scoring they want Arsenal fans can take comfort. Of Henry, Vieira, Adebayor, Toure, Flamini and, as yet, Fabregas and Nasri, none can truly claim to have gone on elsewhere to exceed their performances in an Arsenal shirt.

But Van Persie’s sale could prove to make practical sense too. Van Persie is 29 years of age. In eight seasons at Arsenal he played more than 30 games only once. He scored more than 11 goals only twice and hit the 20 goal mark on one occasion. His best seasons are his most recent but there is no guarantee that will continue. A player whose quality regularly outshines the rest of his team can have his reputation and value exaggerated. Van Persie is a formidable talent but it still stands that during his career regular games and goals have been the exception not the norm. If his injuries catch up with him – and as he gets older that becomes ever more likely – £24m may come to represent extremely good business.

Whatever Van Persie’s future holds Arsenal must now move on. They cannot afford to be distracted by the empty spot beneath the number 10 shirt in the dressing room and they cannot afford to be bullied – like they were last year – by aggravated supporters who want Van Persie’s boots immediately filled with another high-profile forward.

Arsenal’s business so far this summer has been encouraging. Olivier Giroud, Lucas Podolski and Santi Cazorla are ambitious acquisitions that will already go a long way to filling the void left by Van Persie. But this is not what Arsenal really need. Arsenal will not win the title by getting better at what they were already good at. They will win the title by addressing their weaknesses and bolstering problem areas.

Last year Arsenal scored more goals than any other side in the division apart from the top two. Going forward they passed, they moved and they dazzled. That’s the Arsenal way. But they also conceded more goals than any team in the top eight and let in 20 more than the champions. At the back they were disorganised, hesitant, and consistently exposed by injuries. That’s also the Arsenal way.

Just as they did after Henry, Adebayor and Fabregas, Arsenal have the talent, the creativity and the manager to more than make up for the loss of Van Persie. They also have £24m, and if they want to avoid another former hero smirking down the camera with a medal round his neck come May, they need to spend it wisely.

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About TomTom
“Having studied English at university and always been a keen footballer and fan, combining the two has always appealed to me.” - Tom Lytton-Dickie. -"I'm a recently qualified journalist and I've worked in newspapers and broadcasting. I'm a dedicated follower of all sports primarily football, tennis and cricket." Tom Allnutt

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