Van Persie given tantalising taste of what could be

 

Arsenal's Flying Dutchman had his wings clipped at the Etihad Stadium on a disappointing afternoon that may make the task of keeping him permanently grounded in north London more difficult.

Robin van Persie missed out on the opportunity to equal Thierry Henry's record of 34 Premier League goals in a calendar year for the Gunners set in 2004 but it remains probable that he will be at the centre of a tug-of-war between the two clubs.

Carlos Tevez's likely departure in January will push Manchester City into the market and the club have already proven keen on shopping in north London in recent seasons.

Samir Nasri's involvement from the outset here provoked a predictably vitriolic response from Arsenal's travelling faithful and as the debate continues into whether the Frenchman was right to take the money and run, Van Persie knows he will face a similar offer with his contract now entering its final 18 months.

This match had many subplots but chief among them was whether Van Persie should agree the final big deal of his career with his present employers or his most prominent admirers.

Such is Van Persie's effervescent form, his potential summer suitors will comprise clubs in the highest echelons of football but none will be able to match City's financial muscle.

A battle for heart and mind awaits but Arsenal have an advantage given Van Persie's strong emotional bond for the club who polished a rough diamond with a bad attitude from Feyenoord into a man who draws immense pride from captaining the club.

He is the longest serving foreign player at a Premier League club besides Bolton duo Ricardo Gardner and Jussi Jaaskelainen and his character suggests money will not be a pivotal factor in the final big contract of his career. Although Arsenal have been keen to begin negotiations for some time, Van Persie remains insistent he will not discuss his future until next summer when the club's progress and comparative standing in the Premier League becomes clearer following a calendar year of great upheaval.

This match began with the home fans somewhat presumptuously declaring: "Van Persie is ours, Van Persie is ours, you are our feeder club, Van Persie is ours."

Arsenal's chagrined support provided the riposte "Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants," which only underlined why the 28-year-old has become such a precious commodity.

Van Persie's first-half influence was sporadic as the Gunners played on the counter attack with resilience in defence the priority over attacking intent. On their last visit to Manchester in August, manager Arsène Wenger named a patched-up side at Old Trafford, jaded from their Champions League play-off exertions in Udinese, and promptly collapsed amid a barrage of eight Manchester United goals.

A changed back four performed well here – Sergio Aguero's bad early miss aside – until Johan Djourou's injury a minute after half-time prompted one reshuffle too many and Arsenal's squad depth was exposed as they conceded to David Silva.

The talismanic Van Persie's response was immediate, producing a delightful dinked finish over goalkeeper Joe Hart only to be denied his moment by what television replays suggested was an erroneous offside flag.

It seems he can't score when he wants. He was denied a few minutes later by Hart when firing tamely at Hart from Gervinho's useful cutback and ended a match for only the third time in the last ten without a goal to his name.

That City's winner came via a combination of three players who cost £85m alone will only remind Van Persie of the riches City have at their disposal, much of which makes it into the players' pockets.

Arsenal played well here and lost. Is that enough? For now, the Dutchman's flight path remains in a holding pattern at Emirates Stadium but he has much to ponder.

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