What an incredible difference one month can make in the modern game. On the Wednesday 4th of July, Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie took the wind out of the club’s summer sails by announcing he would not be signing another contract. However, one month later, new arrivals to the Emirates Stadium, coupled with one en route, will improve the Arsenal squad immensely, and potentially convince the prolific striker he may yet fulfil his ambitions at his current club.
The news of a breakdown in relationship between player and club is never nice to see, but Van Persie stating his intention to leave the Gunners must have cut the fans particularly deep, given his immense contribution last season, without which the Arsenal would not be playing Champions League football next season. Also, the nature of his statement questioned the manager’s foresight and determination to return the club to the top table.
Although manager Arsene Wenger had moved early in the transfer window to secure the signatures of attackers Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud, both extremely credible additions to the first team squads, it did not appear to be enough to reassure Van Persie of the club’s ambition. Shortly after their arrival, the carefully drafted statement, not likely one worded by the player himself, was released. All went quite from the PFA Player of the Year, suggesting his handlers and agents were springing into action to secure his future away from North London, most likely to one of the two Manchester clubs.
The Arsenal faithful must have sensing that very familiar déjà vu which tends to follow the same distinct pattern each year; an extended transfer saga involving their talismanic captain that looms large over the preseason preparations, with the departure subsequently leaving the team weaker for the coming campaign. Panic buying ensues to superglue a rumbled squad together, and top four status is retained by the skin of their teeth, under ever more duress from the chasing pack. Vieira, Henry, Fabregas. The fans had been down this path many times before.
Arsene Wenger though appears to have learned a lesson on handling such unsettlement, and is changing his approach.
Rather than follow the usual trail of letting the transfer of a star player derail the season before it has begun, as has happened many times before, the manager has moved not only to find suitable replacements, but also prove the criticism he received from Van Persie misguided by pre-emptively adding to the team. His potential replacements Podolski and Giroud are both shrewd moves by Wenger. Podolski found the net 18 times in the Bundesliga for a team totally dependent on his contribution, while Giroud scored 21 goals for Montpellier on their way to an unprecedented Ligue 1 title. They are both league winners, international squad members, and in the prime of their careers. Here Arsene appears to have hedged his bets well. Without the Dutchman, Arsenal can still avail of quality attacking options. If he does stay, they will be even more dangerous.
Add this to the now inevitable arrival of the exciting Spanish international Santi Cazorla from Malaga, and the Red Half of north London could once again challenge for honours. Further, it could convince Robin Van Persie that this team is going places and that his future is in London rather than the north-west. The Gunners showed some promise in the second half of last season, and have many developments to be positive about. Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to improve following an encouraging Euro 2012, Gervinho will not have his season split by the African Cup of Nations this year, and Jack Wilshere’s return from injury will add extra quality to the midfield. The appointment of Steve Bould, a member of a miserly and iconic Arsenal back-four, as assistant manager could also benefit the all-too-often porous defence. Things are suddenly looking positive and the fans are cautiously optimistic, less than a month after expectations were at their most grim.
Of course the possibility of honours this season is dependent on Arsene resolving some of the old clichés regarding his team’s style and grit. Yet one of the newfound strengths of this squad is capability to draw on the unique characteristics and styles of players not raised on the Arsenal way which, painful as it may be to admit for the manager, is when he has enjoyed his most success. Without Van Persie, this success may take longer to develop than this one season. With him, it could be just around the corner.
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