You know how sometimes you take a big gamble on something, knowing that if it pays off you’re in a fantastic position? Well, sometimes that gamble falls flat on its face and leaves you facing a catastrophe.
That’s kind of how Arsenal probably feel this afternoon.
Robin van Persie has announced via his official website today that, because he and the club “in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward”, he no longer has any intention of extending his current contract, which has a year left to run.
Arsenal’s big summer plans, centred around the already-sealed arrival of Lukas Podolski and the almost confirmed signing of Olivier Giroud, have supposedly left them in a far stronger position to attack the Manchester clubs in next season’s Premier League. That, however, all hinged around van Persie.
The plan had been sound. Pairing goal-getter Giroud and Podolski, who is comfortable playing in the wide role Arsene Wenger’s system depends upon, with the likes of van Persie and Theo Walcott should have been a recipe for success – and then some – but despite the prospect of new help arriving, van Persie has clearly not been convinced.
Dutch forward van Persie, who will turn 29 next month, is probably looking at his final major payday when he signs a multi-year contract either this summer or next. Tying himself to a long-term contract means he is naturally inclined to do so at a club which promises genuine chance of success. Sadly, as they have proven in recent years, Arsenal are not that club – at least in van Persie’s eyes.
The North London club now face an impossible decision. Do they play hardball with van Persie, and wait out his dwindling contract until January in the hope that the new acquisitions convince him to stay? Or should they cash in now on what would still be a £40m transfer, and put the money into the rebuilding of their squad?
It depends where Arsenal see themselves. There is no doubt that the Gunners’ fanbase consider anything less than a genuine, credible title challenge a failed season. But Arsenal simply do not have the resources to compete with Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. This is costing them dearly – a perceived lack of ambition was also the reason behind Cesc Fabregas’ departure to Barcelona last summer, a loss which is known to have upset van Persie.
Retaining their captain’s services and throwing him into a new season naturally carries with it the risk of van Persie losing heart in the Arsenal cause. The striker was keen to point out in his statement that “I love the club and the fans, no matter what happens. I have grown up and became a man during my time with Arsenal FC… I am very proud of being part of this fantastic club for the last eight years.” Maybe, just maybe, a scintillating start to the 2012-13 Premier League campaign could change van Persie’s mind?
If I was Wenger and/or Ivan Gazidis this evening, I think that’s the route I’d take. If van Persie had never looked like staying, I can’t help thinking the club would have started quietly shopping him last summer, or at least in the winter. So there must be some hesitancy on the Dutchman’s part. If Arsenal really believe their perpetual youth movement can bring them back to the top of the Premier League pile, now, like never before, is the time to prove it.
Whatever Arsenal decide to do in response to the statement, of course, this just became the biggest transfer story of the summer. Manchester City and Juventus are frontrunners to pursue van Persie but Real Madrid, newly-monied Paris St Germain and others are guaranteed to test the waters. One thing is clear – if van Persie does back up his desire to leave, he will doubtless have no end of suitors from which to choose his new home.
Twitter | @RobertSchatten
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