Why Robin van Persie’s solo exploits may only drive him further away from Arsenal
At Anfield yesterday, Robin van Persie once again rubber-stamped his status as the Premier League’s miracle man. Good job he plays for Arsenal, because they seem to be praying for a miracle more or less every time they cross the white line. “The difference between the two sides” is one of those exhausted phrases football commentators churn out all too often. Yesterday, however, van Persie really was the difference.
Two shots, two goals. Had van Persie been wearing red yesterday, Liverpool would have won with ease, such was their dominance. Only one thing was more absolute about Liverpool’s performance on the day and that was their wastefulness; chance after chance was spurned. Van Persie would have been less forgiving; he was at the other end. He has 25 goals in the Premier League this season (Liverpool as a football club have managed just one more), and 9 assists mean he has contributed directly to 34 goals this term. Over the last two seasons, he has 52 goals to his name in 58 appearances. And it’s not just the number of goals he has been scoring, the quality is equally stunning. Yesterday’s winner was a spectacular left-footed volley taken as the ball dropped over his head; last weekend’s equaliser against Tottenham, a curling effort beyond Brad Friedel’s desperate leap; the flying volley against Everton at The Emirates earlier this season, perhaps the pick of the bunch. Van Persie’s form is, in his own words, “insane”. He says he can barely believe it.
If van Persie can barely believe how good he is performing just now, Arsenal probably cannot even begin to comprehend how lucky they are to have him. I hesitate to call any team a one man team; Wojciech Szczesny once again pulled out all the stops to keep Liverpool’s attack at bay and Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen continue to prove their importance to Arsenal. Van Persie isn’t just a great player, he seems to be a great captain also and appears to have established complete and mutual trust between himself and his fellow players. He speaks of the great assists they give him and claims that without them, he is nothing. I am sure van Persie genuinely appreciates what his team mates do for him, but it is now beyond doubt that he alone is doing as much for the other 10, as they do for him. Without him they would be nowhere near the 4th position they currently occupy and if they manage to cement their place in the Champions League next season, so very much of it will solely be down to him. Of course, while his form brings Arsenal fans relief, his contract situation has them twitching uncomfortably in the seats they sink into after he pulls them out of the fire time and time again.
The basic contract maths is as follows; Arsenal attain Champions League football next season, van Persie signs on and stays. They do not, and he leaves in search for a club that better matches his ability. The problem for Arsenal is, finishing 4th would now be so much down to van Persie’s own work, he will surely be seeking further assurances that Arsenal really is the club that best hosts his talent. He cannot do much more than he is currently doing now, so if Arsenal are to win major honours anytime soon, there needs to be massive improvement elsewhere in the side.
A player as good as van Persie surely isn’t interested in just playing in the Champions League, he will want to be winning it. Arsenal are a long way from that, and that’s with van Persie at the very peak of his powers. In the Premier League, his 25 goals have been only enough to see Arsenal cut 17 points adrift from the top of the table. The next contract van Persie signs will be his last major contract, not just in terms of his financial wealth, but in terms of the success that defines any professional’s career. Arsenal need to convince van Persie that by staying at the club, his unrelenting form will be rewarded with the game’s top prizes. Being entrusted as the club’s incumbent messiah must be satisfying, but surely, a grip around the handles of a major trophy is far more appealing.
Van Persie has given and continues to give Arsenal all he can. In the summer, it will be time for the club to prove that they will do the same for him. Every team needs its star man, but it needs its supporting cast too. Arsenal must now invest heavily and show van Persie that staying at the club represents a very real opportunity to win silverware in the near future. His continued greatness may well keep Arsenal in the hunt for the top honours, but he needs a leg up to help Arsenal climb to the top of the ladder. As he reaches these dizzying heights and looks behind, van Persie must see a vacant abyss, so it falls upon him once again to save the day. Van Persie needs some company. If Arsenal cannot give it to him, nobody can begrudge him should he look for it elsewhere.