Robin van Persie scored his 26th league goal of the season here last night but despite the warmth it gave Arsenal fans in bringing his side level a minute after Newcastle took the lead, there is no escaping the chilling thought of what the club would do without him. Lukas Podolski, the FC Köln striker who manhandled his coach at the weekend, is supposed to be on his way. It is meant to be a sign that the club are buying the experience that will beef them up to compete for honours next season. And it is supposed to be the kind of transfer that will persuade Van Persie to stay.
Yet the bookmakers, at least, are having none of it. They feel that Podolski's arrival is a sign that Van Persie will be off to pastures new come the summer; a sign that the Germany international, coming on a reported weekly salary of £100,000, is a ready-made replacement for the Arsenal captain. It will be a matter of conjecture for at least two months, when the season ends, or possibly until August when the transfer window shuts.
Van Persie equalised just after they had gone behind to Hatem Ben Arfa's well-taken goal. It helped Arsenal in their quest for third place in the Premier League and a confirmed Champions League qualifying slot. But the Dutchman, at the age of 28 and coveted by the biggest clubs in Europe, can do better than just hang around in North London on an outside chance of winning the Premier League and European Cup.
His goals – 33 in all competitions this season – are coming on tap and yet he might think it is all in vain. It is one thing being the fulcrum of a team, and seeing all that effort rewarded with shiny cups in May. It is quite another to think: "Well, where was everyone else?"
If he does go, then he is certainly bolstering his transfer fee by the week. If he stays – and that is the bigger if – then he might contemplate knocking on Arsène Wenger's door and asking, "Is £100,000 really the best you can do"?
Because whatever the German does earn, Van Persie, whose contract runs out in the summer of next year, is worth a lot more. His combination play with Theo Walcott this season has been a joy and Podolski will not tune in so easily to Walcott's wavelength.
His goal here was not one he will file away as a collector's item. It won't join the volleys from outside the penalty area and it certainly was not up there with his winning goal against Liverpool 10 days ago. But he has upped his game this season while the rest of his team-mates have mostly been stuck in neutral.
Yet his strike that beat Tim Krul still required some skill. He shifted his weight to lose his marker, Mike Williamson, and as he fell to ground, he steered his shot low and inside Krul's near post. Van Persie and Krul had a running battle over the goalkeeper's time-wasting, which earned yellow cards for both after Thomas Vermaelen's winning goal. Van Persie then rubbed his compatriot's nose in it when he seemed to tell Krul he could waste as much time as he wanted after they had gone 2-1 down.
Van Persie should have given Arsenal the lead inside the first 10 minutes but somehow failed to get his treasured left foot on a pass from Walcott. There were times in his seven-year Arsenal career when that sort of miss had people muttering that he does not score his share of goals.
It was certainly true that due to injury he had not played his fair share of games before this season. But this year has seen Van Persie in full bloom. Arsenal must profit it from while they can and qualify for the Champions League. But they should steel themselves for the thought that their Dutch master will not be around when next season kicks off.Reuse content