The news that Robin Van Persie wasn’t going to sign a new contract at Arsenal was not a surprise to most. After 8 years at the club and his best Premier League season, it’s his last chance for a move away from the Emirates whilst he is still in his prime. It’s a worry to most Arsenal fans as to why he sees it necessary to move on to achieve success.
This is not a dig at Van Persie, but rather a look into the problems that Arsenal have got themselves into over the past few seasons. They were seen as title contenders, finally bolstered by the signings of established players in Podolski and Giroud. But the revelation of Van Persie’s future shows how Arsenal continue to strugle with the demons they have had in previous seasons. Now more than ever, these problems have come into the public sphere. Van Persie lit the fuse to a time bomb that has been waiting to go off for years.
Alisher Usmanov, who has a 29% stake in Arsenal responded to the Van Persie news by sending a seething open letter to the board, questioning the ambition of the club, something which Van Persie pinpointed in his decision not to re-sign. He clearly wants to invest in players and pay whatever it takes to keep and acquire the best and therefore challenge with likes of Manchester City, United and Chelsea financially. This shows the contrast in the way the football club could be run. At the moment Arsenal has Kroenke, or ‘silent Stan’ as he has been dubbed. He runs a business, keeping his wage structure tight and not going overboard on one player. Although Arsenal have a large wage bill, the structure is kept to and exceptions aren’t made. He’s not going to throw money at Van Persie like he refused to do with Nasri.
In the past this belief has worked. If you look at the double winning sides, the focus was on young talent and good scouting. Vieira, Henry and Adams were all young players brought in and they went on to develop the spine of the team. The players brought in were relatively unknown and were made into superstars. Teams didn’t have the finance or prestige to lure them away and so players and teams stuck together. If you look at the Arsenal of now there are similarities. Vermaelen, Fabregas and Van Persie were the spine of the team that could have developed into something great.
If Arsenal could have kept that together and had players like Chamberlain, Wilshere and Szczesny coming through then the heart and spirit of the team would have been continued for a number of years and the Arsenal of old could have been replicated. But when you lose Fabregas and what could be Van Persie as well as Walcott, then you’re back to square one. Podolski and Giroud are great players, but they will have to gel and settle. We saw this last season with Arteta, Mertesacker and Santos all coming in and it taking a couple of months for the team to get up and running. It’s therefore hard to win the league when players have to gel at the beginning of the season and struggle through a crucial August, September and October period. When Arsenal are losing key players every season, it is hard to see them progressing.
Is it therefore time for a change of plan upstairs? Arsenal is one of the few top teams who use this reserved style with their money and it may be stunting their growth. Although it may have worked in the past, football has changed now, for better or for worse. Money is crucial for success and if Usmanov’s pressure means that there is a change, it can only be a good thing. If you can stop these key players leaving, even if it means spending some more money on wages, then you could build something special again at Arsenal.
They need to stop being a feeder club, but become one where players want to leave the other big teams to come to. Van Persie has seen that the ethos at Arsenal is wrong at the moment. It’s not the players or the manager, but the board. They shouldn’t accept their big players leaving, like Usmanov hasn’t. Van Persie’s decision may have been the final straw. By not signing this contract, Van Persie may have finally kicked into gear the changes that need to be made at Arsenal. He may have contributed 30+ goals last season, but this could be the most important contribution of all.