It is now one week since Arsenal’s 37-goal marksman Robin van Persie announced on his official website that he wouldn’t be extending his current contract, which expires next summer. The news has left the majority of Gooners with a bitter taste in their mouths.
After Arsenal’s dismal start to the 2011-12 campaign, which saw Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving for Barcelona and Manchester City, their captain stepped up to the plate. Van Persie bagged 17 league goals by the turn of the year, and surpassed Thierry Henry’s record of 34 goals in a year by scoring his 35th Premier League goal of 2011 against QPR. He only just missed out on Alan Shearer’s 36-goal haul for Blackburn Rovers in 1995.
By the end of 2011, the Dutchman had scored 50 goals in all competitions – an incredible return from a player who had spent most of his time on the treatment table since he joined from Feyenoord in the summer of 2004. Arsenal fans knew that if they were to finish in the top four, and above their local rivals Spurs, Van Persie needed to stay fit and firing.
At the start of 2012, Arsenal slumped to three successive defeats at the hands of Fulham, Swansea City and Manchester United. By the time the second North London derby of the season came around in late February at the Emirates, Arsenal were trailing Spurs by 10 points and when Louis Saha and Emmanuel Adebayor put Spurs 2-0 up after 33 minutes, the gap was set to widen. But Arsenal showed everyone the character they had lacked over the course of the season and came back to win by an astonishing 5-2 scoreline. The moment of the game, and most probably the turning point in the red half of North London’s season, came from their skipper. In the 43rd minute Van Persie found a yard of space on his deadly left foot just outside the penalty area and curled a wonderful shot past the desperate hands of Brad Freidel to make it 2-2 – from then on there was only going to be one winner.
A week after his heroics against Spurs he was at it again against Liverpool. Van Persie had never scored at Anfield during his Arsenal career, but that was about to change and in some style. Arsenal left the stadium with all three points thanks to Van Persie’s brace, which included a superb volley which rifled past Liverpool’s Pepe Reina at his near post in stoppage time.
RVP’s form didn’t really dip at any point throughout the season. Arsenal finished the season in third place on 70 points, pipping neighbours Spurs by a point to take the final automatic Champions League spot. Van Persie ended the campaign on 30 Premier League goals and was rightly named the PFA Player of the Year. His lethal finishing over the course of the season somewhat masked Arsenal’s problems, and his ability to stay fit and start in 37 of Arsenal’s 38 league games was a massive boost to Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal had long been keen to open contract negotiations with Van Persie and the Dutchman said his future would be sorted once the 2011-12 season ended. However, comments along the lines of ‘Whatever happens I will always love this club,’ raised speculation over his potential departure.
On July 4th he posted a short statement about his future on his personal website. He stated that he had a meeting with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, and a new contract wasn’t mentioned. “Financial terms or a contract have not been discussed, since that is not my priority at all.” He also stated that in “many aspects” he disagreed with Wenger and Gazidis on the way the club was moving forward.
Many Arsenal fans expected this to happen, but the timing of the news and the manner of Van Persie’s statement has led to major disappointment. Fans now say he has burnt his bridges and must be sold sooner rather than later, while others suggest he should sit in the reserves and see out his contract until next summer. If he doesn’t leave during the transfer window then he will be free to talk to clubs in January, when he could sign a pre contract. Another option is for him to change his mind and commit his future to the club.
Some people have suggested the Van Persie saga is similar to Wayne Rooney’s very public contract issues in October 2010, when Sir Alex Ferguson stated in United’s Champions League pre-match press conference against Bursaspor that Rooney wanted to leave. Two days later Rooney did a U-turn and signed a new 5-year contract at Old Trafford.
Whatever happens to the talismanic Dutchman, Arsenal fans will want the issue resolved as quickly as possible to avoid a repeat of last summer. But with Van Persie seemingly on his way out of the Emirates, Arsenal’s annual saga of the summer is about to begin.