Why losing van Persie isn’t a disaster for Arsenal
So another transfer window has arrived and it looks as though another Arsenal star will be departing the North London club, frustrated by the club’s inability to win silverware.
Last week Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top goal scorer last season, issued a statement in which he revealed that he would not be extending his contract with the Gunners, which expires 12 months from now.
Barring a Wayne Rooney like U-turn, van Persie will join Thierry Henry, William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas as former captains to have left the Emirates in the past five years.
Arsenal fans have every right to feel frustrated. They haven’t won a league title since the 2003/04 season and they haven’t won a trophy since their 2005 FA Cup triumph.
Not only have they had to endure seven trophy-less seasons, but this has been compounded by repeatedly having to see star players leave the club, generally because they feel that their search for silverware will be best served by moving to other clubs.
But before Arsenal fans reach for the anti-depressants, following yet another key player exiting the Emirates, van Persie’s departure may not be all bad news for the Gunners.
Van Persie is no spring chicken. He’ll be turning 29 in August. So it’s not as if Arsenal, or any other club for that matter, should be looking to build their team around him for the next five seasons.
Given his age, it’s hard to see Van Persie replicating the form of last season over the next three to four years. In other words, Arsenal would have to find another player to be their chief goal-scorer in the next few years even if van Persie decides to stay and signs a contract extension.
Add to this the fact that with the exception of last season van Persie has proven to be rather injury prone during his time at Arsenal, and the prospect of selling him for £25 million looks rather appealing.
In the seven seasons prior to last, van Persie played in just 58.6 percent of Arsenal’s Premier League matches. Of even more interest is the fact that in those first seven seasons he averaged the paltry sum of roughly nine goals a season.
In contrast, Henry in the six seasons before he left had amassed 140 EPL goals for Arsenal, with an average of just over 23 goals a season. While Fabregas was only 24 years of age and just entering the peak of his career when he left North London for Barcelona.
Statistically, Van Persie’s imminent departure is not anywhere near as significant as that of Henry’s. While Fabregas, unlike Van Persie, would have been a central figure at Arsenal for the next six or seven years at least, if he had chosen to stay at Arsenal.
These statistics on their own don’t mean that van Persie isn’t a great player, but they do provide a proper context in which to evaluate his entire career at Arsenal, and not merely the magnificent form he enjoyed last season.
Arsenal would therefore be getting a good return on their investment should they sell him. He arrived at the club in 2004 for a mere £2.75 million. So if he departs for a fee of around the £25-30 million mark that’s being reported, then it would be hard to argue that his sale would be a poor bit of business.
Another thing that people should consider is that losing a star player doesn’t necessarily mean that a team is destined to struggle the following season. In fact, there is a lot of empirical evidence indicating the exact opposite.
When Henry left Arsenal this time five years ago, Arsenal had finished a disappointing fourth. The following season they finished third and were title contenders for most of that season.
This time 12 months ago, when Nasri and Fabregas departed, Arsenal had finished the 2010/11 season in fourth place on 68 points. This season just gone, they finished in third on 70 points.
When Wayne Rooney left Everton in August 2004, Everton had almost been relegated the previous season having finished 17th. The following season, with Rooney having departed to Manchester United, Everton finished an incredible fourth and had qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
Ruud van Nistelrooy’s departure from Manchester United, following the 2006 World Cup, had some football ‘experts’ predicting that United would finish fifth.
They went on to win the league title that season (and three in a row) with an until then underachieving Cristiano Ronaldo, filling the void left by Van Nistelrooy and going on to not only become United’s best player but arguably the best player in the world.
So what does this all mean for Arsenal?
Losing a star player is not the end of the world. It can allow the team to re-invent itself and re-create the strategies and tactics that it employs. Consequently, any change in style can result in other players within the squad stepping up and filling the void, in the process becoming better players and thus improving the team overall.
This is particularly relevant when you consider that van Persie is soon to turn 29, has only once scored more than 20 Premier League goals in a season (last season) and has been injury prone throughout much of his career.
Van Persie’s departure will not necessarily result in Arsenal being confined to mid-table mediocrity; on the contrary, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
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