The future is bright for Arsenal if Robin Van Persie puts pen to paper on a new contract at the Emirates Stadium and commits to a new deal
This week, it was confirmed that Robin Van Persie will conclude his contract negotiations with Arsenal once he returns from a holiday in the Caribbean, following a Dutch exit from Euro 2012 where one of the favourites for the tournament crashed out bottom of the ‘Group of Death’. The front man, in inspirational form for the Gunners all last season and scoring 37 goals in 48 games in all competitions, cut a forlorn figure for his country at Euro 2012, despite scoring a sublime long range effort against the Germans, he was guilty of missing several golden chances, as were many other of his team-mates.
Van Persie has recently entered the final year on his Arsenal contract, just as Samir Nasri was last year before being sold for £24 million to Manchester City. In the bowels of the Emirates hierarchy, there must be a feeling of déjà-vu creeping about the place. Nasri was Arsenal’s stand-out player in the 2010-11 season and, after three years in North London without winning a trophy, the Frenchman’s head was turned by the glory and riches on offer at the oligarch-funded City. Given that City won the Premier League title last season, it could arguably be said that Nasri, for all grief he has received for it, has been vindicated in his relocation to the north-west.
Nonetheless, given that Van Persie was arguably the finest striker in Europe last season, and that he is entering the final year of his contract, both Manchester clubs and the Spanish giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona are rumoured to be circling around the Emirates. Van Persie is reputedly happy to run down the final year of his contract should a new deal not be agreed, meaning he would leave the club on a free transfer in the summer of 2013.
Should Van Persie agree to stay at Arsenal though, which many a Gooner will be hoping he does, there will have been several powerful and good reasons that will have swayed his decision.
Firstly, Van Persie is unquestionably loved by Arsenal fans and it is clear that Van Persie does feel an enormous debt of gratitude to Arsenal and particularly Arsene Wenger. When it comes to plucking young talent out from obscurity, Wenger is alongside Sir Alex Ferguson for his youth transfer market dealings, taking a young Van Persie from Feyenoord in 2004 for a relatively modest £2.75 million. Having been given the captaincy at the start of last season, it is clear that Wenger has placed his trust in Van Persie. Unlike the inevitability that surrounded Cesc Fabregas’ return to Barcelona last summer, this story lacks the same feel to it and it is by no means certain that Van Persie will depart Arsenal.
At least that is the belief of one half of North London. It is hoped Wenger will have learned the lessons of last year’s summer transfer window, quite comfortably one of the most chaotic in his tenure as Arsenal manager. At around the same time last year, Wenger remarked,
“Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri,” said Wenger. “You cannot convince people you are ambitious after that. Even if you lose Nasri, to find the same quality player, you have to spend again the same amount of money (to replace him). You cannot lose the player and not replace him. These players are not easy to find. Samir’s situation is clear to me – he stays. We are in a position where we can say no. We are not there to make money. We are there to keep our best players. I am confident Cesc will stay because I hope he will see there would be no greater achievement in his life than to lead this team to success.”
Yet that summer, Nasri left along with Gael Clichy to sign for Manchester City and Fabregas returned home to Barcelona for around £30 million. This may indeed have brought in over £60 million into the club in terms of transfer revenue, but the club plainly did not want to sell these players as Wenger said and claimed that Arsenal were not ambitious if they did so. The fact that Arsenal did manage to finish third in the Premier League, 19 points behind both Manchester clubs, perhaps demonstrates the weakening of the top sides in the Premier League, or that the supposed ‘weaker’ sides of a few years ago – Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United principally – have gotten better, depending on your viewpoint. The fact that Arsenal suffered their worst start to a league campaign in living memory, suffering an 8-2 rout at Old Trafford, and were at one stage 13 points behind neighbours Tottenham, reinforces this debate.
Nevertheless, the viewpoint that Van Persie should remain at Arsenal becomes all the more compelling when one considers where the club could be next season. Arsene Wenger pulled off one of the transfer coups of this summer, when he confirmed that Arsenal were to sign Germany forward Lukas Podolski from FC Köln for a fee of around £10 million earlier this year. Podolski is a proven goalscorer in the Bundesliga, and has scored 44 goals in 101 games for Germany. Put into perspective, he has scored five fewer international goals than Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s record goalscorer, and he is 27 years of age. He can play behind a main striker or on the wing, meaning Wenger now has another option in his forward department.
Furthermore, this has been followed up this week by the news that French striker Olivier Giroud has signed for Arsenal also, for a fee of around £13 million and snubbed Chelsea in the process. The targetman from the new French champions, Montpellier, an anti-Manchester City as some have called them for producing a title winning side on a shoestring budget, and Giroud scored 25 goals for the French club last season. He will certainly be a great option for Wenger to call upon, far better at least than the much maligned duo of Marouane Chamahk and Nicklas Bendtner.
Both Podolski and Giroud may turn out to be incredibly shrewd deals in the transfer market and, when one considers the players Arsenal have got to return for them, they are still a force to be reckoned with.
One player that has been a miss for both club and country has been Jack Wilshere, who spent all of last season nursing a stress fracture ankle injury. His expected return for the start of this season will make him will feel like a new signing for the Gunners, and the development of his hugely promising young career can continue, adding a box-to-box facet to the Arsenal engine room once more.
Other youthful talents caught the eye last season too, some we already knew about and some that burst onto the scene in whirlwind of excitement from onlookers. 18- year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly had an impact last season, adding drive and pace into the Arsenal midfield at a time when elder professionals at the club like Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky looked disinterested. His purchase from Southampton for £12 million raised a few eyebrows, but that fee could turn out to be a bargain in time. His form even prompted a call-up to Roy Hodgson’s England Euro 2012 squad where, although he didn’t necessarily burst onto the international scene like Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney did, demonstrated a cool and wise head on such young shoulders. Even Theo Walcott, derided for his ability to frustrate as much as he is to be lauded, is still only 23 with an incredible amount of pace and can still progress, just as Oxlade-Chamberlain can.
In central midfield, it would be fair to say that Mikel Arteta is plainly not Cesc Fabregas, but nonetheless he did a good job in his maiden season with the Gunners, scoring six goals whilst Alex Song, a player whom Arsene Wenger has always backed and put his faith in, emerged as an outstanding deep lying defensive midfielder, shielding the back-four as well as demonstrating the ability to pick out the killer pass where necessary, as 14 assists in all competitions last season proved.
As far as the defence is concerned, Bacary Sagna is arguably one of the best right-backs in the Premier League and was cruelly robbed of a place in the French Euro 2012 squad because of a broken leg sustained whilst on Arsenal duty. Wojciech Szczesny, who firmly established himself as Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper last season, is still raw but is still only 22 years of age and has demonstrated enough, despite a series of errors, that he will be assured presence between the sticks for a number of seasons to come. Thomas Vermaelen has been an assured presence at centre-half when he has not been overcome with injury problems, whilst Laurent Koscielny was arguably one of the most improved players in the Premier League last season. At left-back, many Arsenal fans were not overly upset at the departure of Gael Clichy, as they have Kieran Gibbs who, like Szczesny is still a raw but talented prospect, who could well fill a berth for his country one day, fighting it out with Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand to succeed the great Ashley Cole.
What is clear this summer is that Chelsea have strengthened, with the signings of Hulk and Eden Hazard. Manchester United too should improve with Shinji Kagawa and Manchester City won the league last season with an already formidable squad assembled, but even they could yet make a big money signing or two. Clearly then, the teams around Arsenal have improved and will be forces to reckon with next season, but the Gunners have too both with the signings of Podolski and Giroud complementing the players the North London club already have on their books. Whether the German and the Frenchman have been signed to either complement him or replace him will become clearer in the not too distant future.