With Olivier Giroud and Lukasz Podolski signed, Arsenal were looking strong. But Robin van Persie’s decision not to sign a new contract has thrown open the club’s plans to doubt again.
There rarely seems to be a summer when Arsenal do not lose a major player. Wenger will rightly wonder why his team seem to suffer more than their rivals. In purely statistical terms, Arsenal are the best guarantee of every team in the country of a run to the last 16 and beyond in the Champions League. In Europe, only Barcelona’s record of reaching the latter stages in recent times can match the team from North London.
Ultimately, though, Arsenal have fallen short, whereas others have not. Wenger’s team seem to be a self fulfilling prophecy of promise but never delivery. On paper they are more attractive than rivals, such as Liverpool, Tottenham or even Chelsea after they finished sixth last season, to challenge for the top honours. But there is a greater sense that Arsenal may be more likely to go close, but are also more likely not to win. Other teams have the impression that they could improve and then get over the line, whereas Arsenal consistently struggle to achieve that.
But then maybe that is no surprise when a big player leaves every summer. What Wenger must wonder is how to instil the loyalty in his players that he once commanded. He surely needs more players in the ilk of Jack Wilshere, home grown and loyal to the club, as well as without a desire to one day play for a big Spanish team.
But at least, unlike last year, Wenger has got his replacement for van Persie signed before the Dutchman decided to leave. And getting the van Persie stuff out of the way at the start of July is at least better than discovering this news on August 31. Wenger has an option now. Arsenal were ready to commit to a huge signing on fee and increase in van Persie’s wages. All of that money, which now won’t be spent on the Dutchman, can go some way towards signing his replacement.
Wenger may be wise to keep van Persie for his final year of the contract he has, and either hope the Dutchman changes his mind, or develop his successor to take his place, possibly Giroud. At least the replacement can have a year to bed in, and with the Dutchman approaching 30 fast, that was going to have to be done sooner or later anyway. But if Arsenal keep van Persie, improve on last year and go close, or even win the league or another trophy, perhaps he will have a change of mind. Wayne Rooney did. So did Steven Gerrard.
But then Arsenal also must consider the dreaded sight of van Persie in the colours of a Premier League rival. They may now be tempted to do a deal with Juventus or another team abroad, to ensure the Dutchman does not line up for another team against them in domestic action.
Wenger may reason though, that van Persie will not line up for a rival. The Dutchman’s announcement of his departure was done in a classy way. He was up front, honest and straightforward, and professed his love for the club. The idea he may move to a team like Man City seems far fetched. But the least he can do before he leaves for the team he says he loves is help them to a trophy at last, and to break the cycle that Arsenal find themselves in.