Martin Hardy: Betrayal in the Arsenal air as Robin van Persie turns his sword on king Arsene Wenger
One trophy in eight years at Arsenal and an exodus of talent made decision inevitable
Betrayal. It will be the overriding emotion Arsène Wenger feels whenever he remembers the summer of 2012; when Spain betrayed their footballing philosophy (his words) and his captain, his talisman, one of the last players the top clubs covet from the diminishing shelves at the Emirates production factory, turned his back on Arsenal.
Eight years of teaching, of patience, of moulding a team around him, were blown away in 326 words, but this was not about the depth, or lack of depth, of Robin van Persie's argument. This was Wenger's leader turning his sword on his king. Wenger has doted on Van Persie, he has built a side to suit him, his devotion perhaps best highlighted in the antithesis that was the Netherlands team during the European Championship. Then the forward found out what it was like not to be the fulcrum. He was a shadow of the Premier League force, aside from one fine strike, via his wrong foot.
This will be the summer he wrong-footed Wenger too, and the fallout from that will take time to come to fruition, but the island where the Arsenal manager sometimes finds himself will seem a more lonely place this morning.
Van Persie will not move to a new club, most likely Manchester City, possibly Juventus, for less than the £130,000-a-week package that Arsenal had put together, but then the astronomical nature of the figures are not of Van Persie's making, and in his prime, he could hardly be expected to leave for less, with 12 months remaining on his contract. His is the position you wish for in negotiations.
But the acidity of the attack, not the sustained nature of it, on Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, the club's chief executive, was about ambition and the chronic lack of it that Van Persie now sees as central to the philosophy (that word again) which dominates the thinking of the key figures at the Emirates Stadium. That Gazidis was on holiday at the time of the announcement and that this fact was mentioned directly by Van Persie should also not be overlooked here. Wenger was still called "the boss" in the statement, whereas the chief executive was effectively belittled.
Only the most optimistic of thinkers can have thought Van Persie would watch Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy leave in the last year without beginning to ask questions about ambition and the apparent ceiling on it that went up with the building of Arsenal's new ground.
Much has been made of Wenger's comments about finishing fourth in the Premier League, and how it now betters winning the FA Cup or the League Cup. That is usually picked up by those from England, but Van Persie is not. As a Dutch player with ambition, a manager's desire to finish fourth can hardly have inspired long-term hope. And with a backdrop of the continued drip, drip of genuine talent leaving, this mess, for that is what it now is, points a more damning finger at those who run Arsenal Football Club. Footballers sense the direction of a club. Arsenal have not given the suggestion of being one who even want to challenge Manchester City, where they were already talking of building something to win the Champions League after a title victory that has been out of the reach of anyone in the red and white of Arsenal since 2004.
Van Persie is 29 next month. That is not a young age for a central striker who has suffered injury problems in his past. In the past two seasons he has scored 48 Premier League goals from his 63 games. Mario Balotelli has managed 19 from 40 games. But then Balotelli is 21 years of age and has his career in front of him. He matched Van Persie's achievements (a sole FA Cup victory) in his first year at the Etihad Stadium. Now he has a Premier League title winner's medal.
Van Persie does not, and the damning conclusion he emphatically announced yesterday, was that he felt he never would have if he had stayed at Arsenal.
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