So Manchester United have won the race to capture Arsenal captain and talisman, Robin van Persie. Arsene Wenger has spent the best part of £40m in a desperate attempt to keep hold of the prolific Dutchman; however, all of Arsene’s endeavours have been fruitless. Arsenal fans are left to scratch their heads once again and look towards a future without another one of their key figureheads.
I’ve always maintained that a team is in serious trouble if the backbone of it starts to deplete. Every successful team has always had a core of players throughout every position to marshal the rest of their team mates and guide their club to success. Arsenal’s nucleus is now rapidly falling apart; they have the solid goalkeeper in the shape of young Wojciech Szczesny, who, in my opinion could blossom to be one of the all-time great Arsenal goalkeepers along with the ‘keeper of my era, David Seaman. The defence to me still feels like it’s got a missing link in its chain, I feel it’s missing the leadership skills that a certain Tony Adams possessed along with other impeccable traits in his armoury. In the midfield three Alex Song looked to have made that holding role his own, much like one Patrick Vieira did many moons ago, but after plenty of speculation touting a move to Barcelona was the second big departure from Arsenal this summer.
A strong foundation is the key to which all great structures are built. Unfortunately Arsenal has the whiff of “The Three Little Pigs” about them. They build their house out of straw but it’s only a matter of time before the big bad wolf comes huffing and puffing and blows the house down, leaving nothing but scraps. At the time of writing this article Arsenal had accepted a £24m bid from the Red Devils, subject to personal terms. For me this put the London side at a considerable disadvantage to the rest of their Premier League rivals for one very good reason, you build a team around your strongest player and Arsenal have just sold theirs. Now everybody is looking around the dressing room for their new saviour, the player who can produce a moment of dynamo-like magic to settle a game.
If you look at all the big teams not only in England but in Europe, in Spain, Italy, Germany and now even France, the big teams always have at least three to five world class players in their squad. Take a look at what Paris Saint-Germain are doing, adding the likes of world-class players such as Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore. I look at the Arsenal squad and my thoughts go “good, good, very good, average, good, average” and for me this sounds off the loudest alarm bells; a lot of Arsenal’s players are just good, not world-class. I always judge how good a quality a side is by asking how many of their players would get into their rivals side. So, with that in mind, how many of Arsenal’s current crop do you think would get into the Manchester City side? It’s quite an ironic question seeing as four ex-Gunners now play their trade at Eastlands, but I think the short answer is not many. Player for player Manchester City just look stronger all over the park as well as on the bench. There aren’t many game changers on Arsene Wenger’s bench whereas City on the other hand have a frighteningly powerful set of substitutes who can make an instant impact.
Robin van Persie had a lot of feathers in his cap: captain, talisman, the top goal scorer in the league and double PFA winner to add to his magnificent season. As I cast my eyes over the rest of the squad I find it impossible to single out one individual who can replicate his achievements even fractionally. This is another big problem Arsenal now has; they have lost so many attributes in just one player. It pains me to say it but I really do think it was a case of a “one man team”. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger became completely reliant upon the Dutch forward to drive them forward. Worst of all they’ve sold him to one of their fiercest rivals in Manchester United who’s squad is full of quality right throughout. Adding the PFA Player and Players’ Player of the Year won’t do their domestic and European aspirations any harm.
It really is befuddling and deflating. After bringing in extra re-enforcements in the striking department to take some of the pressure off RVP’s shoulders, as well as adding more creative flair to the side in the shape of Santi Cazorla and then in the blink of an eye, he’s gone, a distant memory forever etched into the minds of Arsenal fans. That jaw-dropping volley against Everton will now forever be a reminder of what Robin van Persie can do when striking a football. I bet a wry smile will cross all of our faces before it’s cruelly wiped away by the reality that his red shirt now has a little red devil on it as opposed to the cannon.
Another question also begs, who will be the Gunners’ next captain? It’s well documented that over recent years Wenger’s men have lacked leadership qualities. There is no Braveheart in the squad who can lead his side in a cavalier charge to victory. Robin van Persie grew into the captain’s role and became their new leader, their new king, and now his reign has come to pass and a young pretender must take the throne. I scratch my head as I write this, now pondering to myself who will sport the armband. As many vocal optimists say “it is a young side” I salute your optimism but the problem is, it’s been a young side for years now. The young blood that has been introduced to the squad over the past few seasons still seems mentally fragile in my opinion, and who can blame them after playing in 8-2 drubbings, being 2-0 up against Wigan in the final ten minutes only to lose to a last ditch snatch and grab. Nobody seems prepared to grab the team by the scruff of the neck and say “this is what we’re going to do and here’s how we’re going to do it”. Who’s going to drag the team kicking and screaming towards the final whistle now? Who’s going to lead the valiant fight back against some of Europe’s finest?
With the Flying Dutchman all eyes will now turn to the new boys donning the red and white shirt, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud will now have to take to the Premier League like a duck takes to water. If neither of these front men beds in quickly and adapts to the pace and style of the English game then Arsene could soon find himself staring into the abyss again with a minority of fans calling for his head to be cut off and mounted on a stake like a 17th century witch hunt. The pressure is now on the German and the French international respectively to deliver the goods on a consistent basis.
Things were finally starting to look up for the first time in a long while for the Arsenal faithful: big money being spent on exciting, quality signings, the return of midfield maestro Jack Wilshere. Both of those aspects teamed with genuine hope and promise that the London side could sustain a meaningful title challenge was a breath of fresh air around the Emirates. However, yet another body blow has winded Arsenal’s hopes and I can already picture the nervous look on fans faces, the quizzical looks, that cover your eyes feeling as their Gunner-tattooed hearts sink back into a dark pit of pessimism and negativity.
Who’s to say that even without their captain and most prolific forward since the living legend that is Thierry Henry Arsenal can’t maintain a title challenge as well as compete for other honours in both domestic cups and on the continent? Having said that, without the unquestionable quality that the 29-year-old Dutch hit man brings Arsenal may yet again lack that one world-class player that can turn a game.
Only time will tell and the results will speak for themselves but, for me my ice cool glass of half full optimism is slowly turning into a tepid mug of half empty unfiltered pessimism.