If Van Persie’s decision were a one-off it would probably not have caused the likes of megafan Piers Morgan to go on a Twitter tirade, and it would not have caused the burgeoning civil war on the club’s board, but it’s no one-off: Gunners captains seem to set their minds to leave the club as soon as they put on the armband. Other clubs now know that once an Arsenal talisman nears his final contract year, he will not be loyal to the club and will chase higher wages and more “ambition.” Arsenal is a top class team boasting an attractive style, have won more than a dozen championships, and under Wenger went undefeated in the 2003 campaign, a feat probably never to be repeated by any other Premiere League club. But that’s the past; the club has not won a trophy since 2005. Last year’s defectors, Nasir and Clichy, did end up with fatter paychecks and the Premiere League title at City while Arsenal finished third, so the evidence is with them until they are proven wrong. It’s becoming impossible for the storied Arsenal club and its professorial manager to hang onto the talent that it spots before anyone else and develops to levels that the likes of City cannot even dream to develop its own young talent. Van Persie, for instance, came to Arsenal as an unknown hot-tempered 20-year-old winger on a cheap transfer. Wenger molded him into an intelligent and lethal world class striker. City or some other club may benefit from Van Persie’s eight-year finishing school in the London red and white. If Van Persie is sold this summer, other players, including speedy 23-year-old winger Theo Walcott, may agree that the club lacks ambition and hit the exits too, repeating last summer’s fire sale fiasco.
Arsenal, so far, says they expect Van Persie to fulfill his duties and play out the final year of his contract. They may be saying this while looking for a buyer, as several former club legends are urging them to do, but this would be a mistake. Arsenal risks finalizing its image as nothing more than a feeder club to “bigger” clubs that want to win championships. This image will damage its global brand and scare off top talent from signing with the club in the future. Selling Van Persie at this point may in fact prove him right: What ambitious club sells its marquee talent year in and year out? What ambitious club develops talent for its rivals to buy up and use against it?
Arsenal has to break its sellout cycle, now. The club should take the risk and keep Van Persie to his contract, at least for the first half of the 2012 campaign up to the January transfer window. The player says he “grew up and became a man” at Arsenal; let him prove it by keeping his word for one more campaign. The club’s new players will need time to adjust to their new league. Walcott has long coveted Van Persie’s central striker role, and he should be given the chance to compete for it with his new teammates. Van Persie should relinquish the captain’s arm band but be given as much play time as he can handle, as Arsenal step up and challenge for cups and titles. Van Persie may be sold in January or stay through the season and leave as a free agent, but by staying he may earn the club more money than it can get for selling a wantaway 29 year old with a long history of injuries. A final successful campaign will help him repair the image he had built with the fans over eight years, but destroyed in one ill-conceived message to them. Arsenal can begin to regain the control it has squandered by selling off its top players without replacing them, year after year.
Arsenal should prove its true ambition to its best player, by keeping that player to his word and keeping him for his final contract year.