The comments from Robin van Persie recently about his reasons for declining to renew his contract with Arsenal will have many consequences.
It will hurt Arsenal’s fragile prestige, which had been in recovery since getting into the Champions League in third place, and signing some of Europe’s super middleweight strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. It continues the emerging pattern that Arsenal can develop but not retain a world class talent for long. It cements a precedent of Arsenal being a choice mid-step club for young players keen to move on after a few years. Perhaps the age bracket of Podolski, Giroud, Mertesacker, Arteta, Santos might be a reaction against this – all 25 years plus and less inclined or likely to be a target for a Manchester City when they peak. Wenger grows tired of his projects being cherry-picked from his grip and used to supplement teams with powerful financial backers.
For years Wenger has worked with Clichy ironing out his concentration issues, improving his crossing, changing his positioning tendencies – all for him to be taken at a point where, in theory at the very least, he should have reached something near his peak. The same with van Persie. Wenger has changed from a flaky number 10 into a more robust and reliable super striker of deadly efficiency. A comparatively short period of exceptional form against an extended career of injuries and he has decided to leave. More interestingly, is the fact that there is a change among Arsenal fans – they succumb to the modern power balance, accept and expect such big players to leave eventually.
The likely departure of van Persie will cause ripples in the tactical strategy of the team. Losing the Dutchman, so adept at orchestrating the beginning of a counter attack with a sweeping left foot pass to the far flank or opening space from a defender with a slick move. Furthermore, no Premier League player ran further than him last season. Arsenal are losing the hardest working, best finishing, most individual talent the country has seen since Thierry Henry in 2004. What they are replacing that with is a more balanced product. Podolski works extremely well on the left side of a 4-3-3. He works as hard as any winger-forward I have seen and will perform his role effectively. Podolski’s best form out wide seems to come out when he works with a strong front man that allows him to run off him. Giroud is a more agile version of Mario Gomez, albeit a less polished version of what the Bayern frontman offers. But, they are both muscular, broad shouldered, stronger with their back to goal and quick thinking near goal.
Henry and van Persie have ideas, a vision, exceptional feet. Without him the team remaining has a creative deficit – whether it will be Arteta and Wilshere that fill that role by playing further forward, I suspect not. Currently being linked is Stevan Jovetic, who has massive ability. His ego and intensity intrigues me. I think Wenger will replace a special player with another mercurial talent.
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