There’s no going back for Robin van Persie now. The striker has burnt his bridges at Arsenal ten times over, and it’s just a question of when rather than if he’ll leave behind a club that are no longer seen as good enough for his personal ambitions.
Exploring the question of whether Arsenal really need van Persie is an interesting one. The club need him more than anything to keep face; losing your best players each year doesn’t send out the right signals to your closest rivals. Van Persie represented the last established superstar at the club, yet there’s no reason why Arsenal can’t move on without him, even ambitiously.
The other question is, do Manchester United really need to buy Robin van Persie? From the offset, it looks like another possible marriage that is destined for short-term happiness. The player is much more likely to land the many trophies he longs for, and with the high calibre of player at United, the burden of attacking responsibility will not weigh so heavy.
The prospect of van Persie pairing up with Wayne Rooney is frightening. Arguably the two best forwards in English football combining for a devastating mix of skill and power in attack: power that comes either through one’s tenacity or the other’s phenomenal technique. Manchester City may have/had (It’s still not clear what they’re doing with their strikers) the best strike force in the Premier League, but the possible acquisition of van Persie for United would do much more than just catch up with the noisy neighbours in terms of depth and quality.
But that raises another question: why would van Persie want to go to a club that will not cater solely to him? Trophies and success are more than a given with United, but in an environment where he is not the biggest fish in the pond, van Persie could really see his game suffer. The Netherlands’ disastrous Euro 2012 campaign gave evidence to that. There was clearly a divide of opinion on whether van Persie should have been the starting striker—a divide that stretched all the way back to his home country. The Dutch squad is filled with players who are on equal footing to the Arsenal striker in terms of quality, yet they couldn’t find him on the pitch (literally,) nor could they find it in themselves to work as an effective unit.
Arsenal, on the other hand, built their squad last season around their captain—and they got the very best out of him. At United, or even City, van Persie will be given no such luxury. He’ll be forced to integrate into those squads, rather than have a high concentration of established players change their games to suit him. It amounts to a gamble, and is it really a gamble United can afford to take?
United’s weakness isn’t in their attack; they’ve got an experienced goal scorer wasting away on the bench, and Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck are more than capable of becoming integral parts of the team in the near future. Not so much a question of where does van Persie fit in, but rather a question of why waste money that they may or may not have on an area that doesn’t need addressing.
Arsene Wenger may play the fool, but there’s no way the Frenchman will be signing off on his most valuable asset—or at least one of very few—swapping the Arsenal shirt for one United’s without getting a handsome fee in return. Injuries and that lingering issue of the “one season wonder” doesn’t matter to Arsenal when they’re taking an action that could shape their immediate future. The quoted £20 million-plus that Wenger wants for van Persie is the right call to make on a valued asset, but there should be no question that the fee heavily outweighs what United would be willing to part with.
There’s also an obvious underlying theme here whereby United clearly do not want City to strengthen with the Dutchman in their squad. Buying the player would ensure that United are hugely strengthening, while their rivals scramble for an alternative. But the way recent performances and situations have panned out, van Persie is setting himself up for a silver coated period of unhappiness and not so Arsenal-esque performances.