With a total of 38 goals and 15 assists in all competitions, 2011-12 was most certainly a simply sublime season for Arsenal’s Dutch forward, Robin van Persie. It was thus to the frustration of many Gunners fans when, on Wednesday, he declared that he would not be signing a new contract with the club. However, does this really mean that the future of Arsenal is as bleak as everyone predicts?
Simply put, the answer is no. Arsenal were a top-four club before van Persie’s spontaneous, and admittedly quite remarkable, run of form and will continue to be so following his imminent departure.
The pivotal ingredient of centre-forwards, that many football fans are much too quick to forget, is that much of their ‘form’ is dependent on luck. It was luck, or rather the lack of it, that prevented van Persie from realising his potential much sooner at Arsenal after his £2.75 million move from Feyenoord in 2004.
His 8 years at the club have been dogged by a plethora of injuries, from a broken metatarsal to ruptured ligaments, which has resulted in the lamentable fact that 2011-12 was the first season the Dutchman was able to start over 25 games in a season. Indeed, Lady Luck was at the helm of many of his goals last year – as it is with many strikers, and to say that he single-handedly carried the Arsenal team to third is a gross over-estimation of his talents. As any ardent viewer of Arsenal would tell you: bar 5 or 6 moments of magic, the goals he scored were the result of, and a testimony to, the work of those around him. With the most shots in the Premier League, 174, van Persie’s goals must be seen within the context of his wastefulness and sporadic finishing.
The signings of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski look to be good business on Wenger’s part. In Giroud, Arsenal may not have a like-for-like replacement of van Persie, but they have somebody to finish the considerable number of chances the team creates – someone to simply stick it in the back of the net. Having amassed just over 100 caps for his country, Lukas Podolski will clearly offer a lot of experience in the final third and is certainly a player in the mould of van Persie, if not a little less skilful. For the first time in Arsenal’s history of losing their marquee players, replacements have already been drafted. Much was made of the imminent collapse that awaited Arsenal following the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, yet Arsenal finished the subsequent season one place higher than the previous.
Yes, it is painful for Arsenal fans to hear that yet another club captain will be departing: the fourth since 2005 – fifth, if the tantrum-throwing William Gallas is to be counted. What has made this particular decision all the more painful however, is not the actions of the Arsenal board and management, but the fact that van Persie was thought by many to be a stalwart of the Arsenal cause. Announcing his intentions has done nothing but reduce the fee any club is willing to pay for his services. For a cheap shot at the Arsenal hierarchy, van Persie may have cost the club a few millions of pounds and has betrayed those who stuck by him through plain mediocrity, injuries and rape allegations. A player of this sort is not to be revered and this is something the fans must soon cotton on to.
The collapse of Arsenal that has been predicted every year since the departure of Thierry Henry has failed to materialise. Why? The foundations at the club are too solid for it to be rocked by the loss of any one player, not least one as hit-and-miss as Robin van Persie. For Arsenal, the future still lies within the top four of English football.