Arsenal captain Robin van Persie stunned the club by announcing that he will not sign a new contract to keep him at the Emirates stadium beyond next season. It is difficult to underestimate the consequences of this decision.
One would have presumed Arsenal would sell him on, just as they did in similar circumstances with Samir Nasri last year. If shock can ever be familiar, it is with Arsenal fans, following consecutive summers of huge discontent. Shock is turning to bitter anger amongst supporters, with many, this writer included, feeling it is not so much the fact that van Persie is choosing not to sign a new contract - for who can blame a champion player for being ambitious - as much as the manner in which proclaimed his wantaway reveries, through a strongly-worded blog-post on his personal website. His message was so starkly different from the teary, heartfelt bows Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry made from the club, and one would expect more from a player who has seen the loyalty of the club first-hand during his frequent spells on the sidelines.
And despite his talk of "huge respect" for Wenger and all associated with Arsenal, it is clear that van Persie's statement was all of his own doing and the club were not consulted about its release.
A statement on Arsenal.com states "Robin has one year to run on his current contract and we are confident that he will fulfil his commitments to the club", suggesting he will be forced to stay at the club. But how can the Dutchman remain? Van Persie will no doubt be desirous to leave north London for pastures new as soon as possible. He would join his new club next summer on the cusp of thirty. Moreover, how can the Arsenal armband, sported in the recent past by legends such as Adams and Vieira, be entrusted to a man rubbing his hands to do a runner?
The principal ramifications are certainly not financial - though van Persie's stinging words to the effect he "disagrees" with the club's direction will certainly hit his transfer value, should Arsenal indeed sell him this summer. It is known Arsenal had set aside substantial funds for his new contract, including an increase in his weekly wage to £130,000 and a potential bonus pot of £5 million.
One could say the greatest implications will be felt on the pitch. Van Persie scored a sublime 37 goals in all competitions last year. A poor European Championship didn't show the best of the striker but few Oranje players have come away from Poland & Ukraine with their reputations enhanced. Game after game this North London talisman single-footedly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. He shared an almost telepathic relationship with Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky last season.
Equally impressive to his role as spearhead of the Gunner's attack was his leadership. For all of the brilliance of former Arsenal prince/skipper/playmaker, Cesc Fabregas, he could not galvanise the team the way van Persie has the last year. He led by example, demanded that bit extra, encouraged, stoked and always seemed to embody that guiding principle of football: respect the name on the front of your shirt more than the one on your back and you will succeed. So often did TV cameras pan to Arsenal's lucky charm with his arm around a younger player, murmuring precious words of wisdom into their eager ears. Even at post-match interviews he handed his man of the match champagne bottles to younger team-mates, stating they earned it more than he.
Just this week Wenger said: "We want to keep Robin van Persie at all costs, because we depend on him offensively. I have always supported him, even in the hardest times, and I hope he will end his career at Arsenal."
Now Le Boss will be hoping the cascade of goals will be somewhat through new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, who both enjoyed career-high seasons last year. However they will take time to adapt to the breakneck pace of the Premier League. The likes of Walcott, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and indeed Wilshere when he returns from injury will have to shoulder greater responsibility.
The most calamitous result of van Persie's statement is his point about the club's desire. For two years Arsenal have sought to convince players they possess ambition and the capacity to fulfil those lofty aspirations. And today marks the second year players have turned away unconvinced. It is a damning indictment. Van Persie has wittingly or unwittingly painted Arsenal as a gimmick club, masquerading to be what it is not and failing at the charade.
What happened in behind-the-scenes conversations with Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger we may never find out - unless Wenger gets round to writing that tell-all book he's been teasing us about for a year. Nonetheless, these are the salient facts. The club has not won a trophy in almost eight years and the Invincibles are now but a distant memory. There has been no paradigm shift, but signs of progression are there. Some £25 million has already been splashed on two shiny new international strikers, both signed up before the transfer window even opened. This is a far cry from the panic-induced shopping spree of last summer.
Also, a clear-out is being talked of, with Arsenal ready to dispose of the handsomely-paid mediocrity that haunts Ashburton Grove's balance-sheet: Chamakh, Park, Denilson, Djourou, Squillaci and so forth are all in the shop window. As The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson says, it would be fascinating to hear RVP explain the path he thinks Arsenal could tread without spending money they don't have. I for one did not realise van Persie was a seasoned businessman of the pitch as well as a starlet on it.
Whether Arsenal sends him happily into the sun now or keeps him kicking and screaming for a year, the club faces another monumental test of character and fortitude. The Robin van Persie ride is coming to an end, but Arsenal's rollercoaster looks set to go on for days, weeks, months, and maybe years to come.
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