What If Robin Van Persie Had Stayed at Arsenal This Season?

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 22:  Robin van Persie of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford on April 22, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Imagine for a moment that Robin van Persie is Gywneth Paltrow.

More specifically, imagine he is her character Helen Quilley in the 1998 movie Sliding Doors. In that romantic drama, we see Quilley's life play out in two very different realities, based on whether she caught or missed a London Tube train.

If you're still following this convoluted analogy, imagine that train was a Manchester United contract. If the Dutch striker signs it, he becomes a hero at Old Trafford. He scores 28 goals in all competitions for the club in 2012-13, including a hat-trick and manager Sir Alex Ferguson's "goal of the century" on the day the club wins its historic 20th title.

But what if he missed the analogous Tube train and didn't sign the contract? What happened in the parallel universe where RVP stayed at Arsenal?

Would the Londoners have won the title with four games to spare? Would Manchester United be desperately clinging to Champions League qualification?

While these scenarios seem unlikely, the general consensus is that The Gunners would be stronger and Fergie's troupe would be weaker.

Van Persie was sold last August for £24 million, which Piers Morgan equates to the amount lost if Arsenal do not finish in the top four. So, if manager Arsene Wenger fails to bring his side to their 16th consecutive Champions League berth due to his departure, the club would not be too significantly damaged from a financial perspective.

The proceeds of RVP's summer sale—along with those of Carlos Vela and Alex Song—were used to subsidize the purchases of Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

This season, Van Persie has scored twice as many league goals as Cazorla. Giroud and Podolski's combined league total of 20 goals still can't match the Manchester United star's tally of 24.

Clearly, no one is reaching RVP's high standards, but Coach Wenger has actually argued that his side are stronger without their former talisman. In an interview reported by The Sun, the Frenchman effectively said Arsenal were no longer a one-man team, and that the burden of goalscoring has been spread across the field.

Also, there are less psychological issues, as players do not have to worry if their primary source of goals is fit and ready.

In this sense, Coach Wenger might be right. When Van Persie notched up 37 goals in 2011-12, Theo Walcott was the only other player to get close to a double-digit goal tally with eleven goals. This season, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott and Cazorla have all scored double digits, with 61 goals between them in all competitions. To put that in perspective, Arsenal scored 74 league goals last season.

Of course, it is Coach Wenger's prerogative to put a silver lining on Van Persie's sale, but a cursory glance at his statistics for this campaign suggest Arsenal would be in a much better position right now.

In the 2012-13 Premier League, RVP has scored in 16 winning games and two draws. His goals have been critical (i.e. they made the difference in a draw or a game won by a single goal) in 11 wins and three draws.

That effectively means he is responsible for 36 of Manchester United's 84 points. That's 43 percent of their success attributed to the Dutchman.

Without those points, Manchester United would currently be in eighth position in the league.

With 43 percent more points—the same amount RVP has provided for Manchester United—Arsenal would currently have 91 points. They would have won the league, on course for a record tally.

To put RVP's stats in comparison, Giroud has only scored the critical winning or drawing goal in two Premier League draws. Podolski has managed it in just one win and one draw.

So between them, the replacement forwards have effectively earned their side six points this season, in comparison to Van Persie's 36.

Of course, these figures are flawed because Manchester United would have had someone else playing (and scoring) in his place, and Arsenal have had another striker trying to fill RVP's boots. Yet they are a clear indicator of the effect RVP would have had if he stayed in London.

Would Arsenal be challenging for a league title with the Dutchman in their ranks?

Would his three Champions League goals this season have helped The Gunners top their group and avoid elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich?

Could he have prevented an embarrassing FA Cup exit to Blackburn that would otherwise have provided an achievable path to the final in the form of Wigan and Millwall?

Sadly, we do not have the benefit of a Sliding Doors-style parallel timeline to know what would have really happened if RVP has stayed at Arsenal. But you can be quite certain that the Red Devils faithful are glad he boarded the train and rode it all the way to Manchester.