Robin van Persie Move Ends Arsenal and Manchester United's Great Rivalry

Tony MabertContributor IAugust 15, 2012

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Robin Van Persie of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on May 13, 2012 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The confirmation that Arsenal have agreed to terms with Manchester United over the sale of star striker Robin van Persie has sent shock waves through the Premier League.

It also marks an end to English football's last big rivalry.

Van Persie's move is arguably the biggest transfer between English clubs in the 20-year history of the competition. In the eyes of many it eclipses Fernando Torres' £50 million switch from Liverpool to Chelsea on deadline day, Andy Cole's shock swapping of the United of Newcastle for that of Manchester and Sol Campbell's bombshell of a Bosman free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to their arch rivals Arsenal.

However, the Dutchman's proposed move from the Emirates Stadium to Old Trafford has surely sounded the death knell for what has been the defining rivalry of the Premier League era.

For the seasons surrounding the turn of the century, the Gunners facing the Red Devils was the only show in town. Martin Keown haranguing Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane clashing with Patrick Vieira in the tunnel and Wayne Rooney ending the Invincibles' unbeaten run are just a few of the incredibly iconic moments over a seven-year period in which they shared the title between them.

Between 1997 and 2004 Arsenal won the title three times, including one as part of a double and another without losing a single league game, while United's haul of four titles in that period features one double and a historic treble.

At that time, the thought of one club selling their standout best player and captain to the other would have been unimaginable. Would Eric Cantona or Tony Adams ever thought twice about such a prospect? And yet this is where these two grand institutions find their relationship in 2012.

Van Persie arrived at Arsenal at the start of the 2004-05 season. Although he debuted against United in the Charity Shield that August and was also part of a defeat at Old Trafford in a second-string Carling Cup clash, the first significant game he played against United was the 2005 FA Cup final. A young Van Persie came on as a substitute late in normal time and converted a penalty in the ensuing shootout after Arsenal ground their way through 120 agonizing minutes in Cardiff.

It was to be the first and only trophy Van Persie would win at the club.

While the history of the rivalry has always been quite apparent during his time at Arsenal—and has no doubt been keenly felt by the player himself—the balance of power defined by key results has seen the severity of it wane in his eight years on these shores.

Since the 2005 FA Cup final there has been the 4-0 humbling at Old Trafford in the same competition in 2008, the crushing Champions League semifinal second-leg loss at the Emirates in 2009 and, perhaps most symbolically of all, the 8-2 dismembering in Manchester almost exactly a year ago.

Van Persie has stood by and watched as Vieira, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas all quit on the club while they were its captain, not to mention Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and the other former Gunners now on Manchester City's books. Even the likes of Mathieu Flamini and Aleksandr Hleb chose to leave Arsenal for some of Europe's biggest clubs out of choice rather than stay.

However, Van Persie has managed to put all of those former heroes in the shade by joining the club Arsenal still see as the biggest rival, even though United have won four league titles and one Champions League since the Gunners last lifted a trophy.

The great enmity felt between the clubs and their fans for each other will remain for years to come. In fact, the fixture will surely take on a new, uglier direction when the two sides first clash in Manchester on November and then go up another level altogether when the return fixture happens in April. Next spring we may well find out what the north London version of the infamous pig's head once aimed at Luis Figo will be. In spite of this, the Van Persie deal is the clearest signal yet that the two clubs are no longer rivals when it comes to the top honours; that they are no longer operating on the same plane.

Van Persie said he wanted to leave a club that has already signed Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Oliiver Giroud this summer because they lack ambition, and is instead joining a club as a fellow new arrival along with Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell.

The message could not be any clearer: in 2012, moving from Arsenal to Manchester United represents a step up, and no true sporting rivalry can be based upon two clubs that are not on the same level.