Robin Van Persie: Star Striker Can Galvanize Arsenal Whether He Stays or Goes
Arsenal fans made themselves heard on Sunday. According to The Sun, "large sections" of the 1,500-strong traveling support in Cologne booed their best player, Robin van Persie, when he was introduced as a substitute.
Some cheered, too, and we can't rule out the penchant for sensationalism when it comes to anything remotely to do with Van Persie this summer, but there's no denying an element of Gunners fans being ready for him to leave.
How quickly things change.
Last season, the Dutchman was Arsenal's sublime salvation—responsible for over a third of Arsenal's goals and an even greater share of remaining hopes that Arsene Wenger's team might once again win a trophy.
For nine months, Van Persie gave Arsenal fans reason to believe.
He was their Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. There was a swashbuckling football hero at work in North London again and he appeared to be relishing his role more with every headline performance.
"He scores when he wants," they sang. And he pretty much did.
But, like a janitor dating a supermodel, there was always the looming sense Van Persie would outgrow their relationship. Arsenal fans had seen it happen with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Most could fathom the bittersweet implications of Van Persie's rampant form.
He was playing for their hearts. But with every star turn, he moved closer to a big-money move elsewhere.
Many Arsenal fans were resigned to the fact. Most understood why Van Persie might leave and were prepared to say their respectful goodbyes when he made his exit. After all, we all have ambitions to fulfill in life.
But the good feeling evaporated when Van Persie released a statement on his personal website on July 4, saying he would not be renewing his contract in light of his lack of faith in the policies of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal's chief executive, Ivan Gazidis.
It wasn't about money, he said. It was about the way Arsenal should move forward in search of a return to the club's "glory days."
Whatever it was about, Van Persie's statement was a spectacularly ill-judged next move in the negotiations. It was bad enough for Arsenal fans he was leaving, but to undermine their club and its manager on the way out could yet cost Van Persie his place in their hearts.
Wrote Matt Law in the Mirror:
We've all been there. We've all drafted out an enraged email to our boss, an angry text to our other half or an outraged response to an ill-timed request. Crucially, most of us stop short of hitting the send button.
Fast-forward six weeks and Van Persie is still an Arsenal player—albeit a less popular one than the man who blitzed the Premier League last season and won practically every award he was eligible for.
With 18 days left to deadline day, there remains the possibility he could see out his contract. "Robin scored 30 goals last season and you want to keep your best players," said Wenger on Sunday (Daily Mail). "We want to keep him. I can't tell you more at the moment because I don't know any more."
If he does stay, Van Persie will have a point to prove. He'll be well aware of how the fans have reacted to his actions this summer and be desperate to win back their trust.
Moreover, he'll know that any dip in his form may very well scare away potential suitors for a summer 2013 free transfer—by which time he'll be 30.
If that motivation translates to an extra ounce of effort on the pitch, Arsenal will have themselves an even greater talent to call on than the man who carried them last season.
What's more, Van Persie staying would send a message of intent to his fellow players and Arsenal's supporters that he believes they can challenge this season. If it's truly trophies he's after, then committing for another season says all you need to know.
Could Arsenal win a trophy this season without Van Persie?
Judging by the reaction to the performances of new signings Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla against Cologne, all is not lost for Arsenal.
Wenger has strengthened his squad with what appear to be three very astute signings and if he can summon the heart they showed in that remarkable performance against Milan at the Emirates, the Gunners could be a surprise package this season.
You could even argue that the exit of Van Persie takes away some expectancy and allows Wenger's team to operate under far less pressure.
It also rids Wenger and his team of a constant distraction. Just because Van Persie stays this season doesn't mean we won't be talking about his future every week of the season. Maybe the time is right to move on and concentrate on getting the very best out of the players who really want to be there.
And then there's the effect on the fans—who appear ready to make Podolski their new hero and have gathered behind their manager after Van Persie's cheap shot in his statement.
Strange as it sounds, losing their best player might be the best thing for Arsenal if it brings the club together and sparks a new dawn of positivity.
Is it ridiculous to say the Van Persie situation has become a win-win for the Gunners?
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