Van Persie playing like a man who wants to stay

 

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The Independent Online

It is less than a month since the obituaries were being written, reluctantly, respectfully, but written nonetheless. The era of Arsène Wenger, went the consensus, was over. Out of contention in all competitions, humiliated in Milan, with next season's Europa League beckoning. Even at the Emirates Le Professeur was being doubted.

Four victories later and Wenger's Arsenal are not only again playing the best football in the country, they are showing a sense of belief and determination rarely associated with the team since the Invincibles. Tottenham, Milan, Liverpool and Newcastle United have been beaten and an automatic Champions League qualifying place – at Spurs' expense, is in sight. Senior players such as Tomas Rosicky are in the form of their Arsenal careers, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are forming a solid defensive partnership, and youngsters such as Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny are maturing nicely. There is even the probability of Wenger signing an established premium player in Lukas Podolski.

All that remains for Arsenal to be regarded as genuine challengers next season is for Jack Wilshere to recover full fitness, Gervinho to enjoy the second-season blossoming which players recruited from France's Ligue 1 often experience – and Robin van Persie to sign a new contract.

Van Persie is reported as having already agreed terms with Manchester City, who know they have the funds to persuade Arsenal's board to overrule Wenger, as they did with Samir Nasri. Yet while his agent may have had preliminary discussions, Van Persie does not look like a man preparing to pack his bags. His commitment is total. The verbal spat with Newcastle's Tim Krul on Monday night may have been ugly but it epitomised his desire.

There is nothing unusual in a player wishing to leave a club on a high. Cesc Fabregas strained every sinew as he sought to mark his last season at Arsenal with silverware. Yet in the end, his season petered away along with Arsenal's challenge. Van Persie, however, seems to have found a new intensity after the debacle in San Siro, as if the captain had taken it upon himself to haul his club out of their malaise.

The Dutchman will be 29 when next season begins and he knows his time to harvest trophies is limited. To date, he has won the Uefa Cup with Feyenoord and the FA Cup with Arsenal, a meagre return for a player of such ability. Van Persie's game is not dependent on pace, but footballers who play with their back to goal are always at risk of injury and his body has been so fragile in the past he has never exceeded this season's 28 league games.

If Manchester City do lure Van Persie, it will because he believes they are his best chance of winning things, not because they offer the highest wage packet. He is not understood to be mercenary and, partly because of his background as the son of artists, is aware there is more to life than riches.

There is no doubt that Van Persie's preference is to stay and lift trophies at Arsenal, with a team that has grown up around him and a support which adores him. The question that will exercise him come May is whether that is feasible.

The way Arsenal are playing at present it is, but after so many false dawns Van Persie is unlikely to want to tie himself to a long-term deal. The obvious solution is a one-year contract extension until summer 2014. The club may not like that, but Van Persie holds the cards, and no one could claim that he has let the current uncertainty over his future affect him.

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