Arsenal were right to sell Robin van Persie.
Hear me out on this. This is just an argument, and I’m not entirely sure that I’m right. Nor am I trying to suggest that Arsenal wouldn’t be better off if van Persie simply slotted into this team in place of Giroud. I still think that RVP is the best striker in the Premier League.
This argument is based on the premise that, had van Persie decided to sign a new contract in the summer, the Gunners would not have bought Cazorla (obviously that is speculation, but it seems likely given that Arsenal had already spent around 24 million pounds on Giroud and Podolski). This argument is also based on the hope that the Gunners finish in the top 4 this season.
Let’s look at what Manchester United paid for. Van Persie is 29, and will be 30 by the time the next season starts. The Red Devils gave him a four year contract at £250k a week or £13 million a year. That means that Manchester United owes him £52 million over the course of his contract. He is also owed a £10 million “loyalty bonus” if he decides to see out his contract at United. So that’s £62 million that United has to pay, excluding any possible signing bonuses and anything they might have paid his agent. They also paid Arsenal a £24 million transfer fee, bringing the cost up to £86 million.
So, what type of player are they getting for anywhere between £80 and £100 million? There’s no denying that van Persie has been a great player for the Red Devils this year. He may have won them the title, and he was definitely their star player. But was it worth it? At 30, he is well past his prime. He’s obviously had his injury issues, and even assuming he doesn’t get seriously injured for the rest of his contract, many of his previous injuries could shorten his career. He has played only two full seasons in his life, and he’s had the same issue in both of them: he can’t keep up that same level of form as the season comes to the end. Although he scored 12 goals in his last 19 games for Arsenal, he only scored in 7 of those 19 games, meaning that there were 12 games that he didn’t score in—and he’s doing the same thing for Manchester United this season. He is unlikely to win the golden boot, and will be lucky to get more than 25 or 26 goals by the end of the season. That is far from a bad return, but it’s a noticeable drop from his performance last season, despite being on a team that has scored many more goals than the Gunners did last season.
Based on the fact that his performance dropped this year, quite possibly due to his age, I think it’s unlikely that he will have another season that ranks amongst the greatest a striker has ever had. I think he will be a useful player for United for the duration of his contract, and I think he will continue to score 10-20 goals a season. But I don’t think he is going to continue to put himself in the conversation for best player in the Premier League.
And even if he did win the Premier League, was it worth it? Manchester United are the biggest team in the world by ever available measure. Their sponsorship deals are through the roof, their turnover from shirt sales is absurd, and they boast the biggest fan base among all professional sports. Does winning the Premier League help them from a financial perspective? I would argue that it doesn’t. At this point, they’re big enough and successful enough under Sir Alex Ferguson that they don’t have to prove that they’re going to compete each year and draw huge numbers of views. Van Persie isn’t going to bring in any extra shirt sales, and the Red Devils aren’t going to gain larger sponsorship deals or match day revenue because of his services.
And that’s the real kicker. I think Manchester United will regret buying him because of how much it costs. They have seriously hamstrung their ability to purchase strikers, ones who can continue to contribute for years to come. Their two star players are on massive, contracts (Rooney is on £300,000 a week while van Persie is on £250,000 a week), both have three years remaining on their contract, and are both showing signs of decline. That’s a dangerous position to put themselves in as Vidic, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand, and Evra are all over 30 years old. So while van Persie may have won them the League, the amount of money they owe him could prove to be costly in the future. And I have to think that they would have won the League with almost any decent striker, given how far they are ahead.
So why is Arsenal better without van Persie? As I said earlier, this argument hinges upon the assumption that had they kept van Persie, Cazorla would never have been signed. Let’s look at the line-ups. This is the one Arsenal (probably) would have had for most of the season had van Persie stayed:
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Ramsey Podolski
And this was their line-up for most of the season without van Perise (I’m excluding Wilshere, Rosicky, and Diaby from both because of how long they were injured):
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Cazorla Podolski
In my opinion, a midfield trio of Arteta, Coquelin, and Ramsey would be awful. All three are the same type of player and none of them really feel comfortable playing in the role behind the striker. And although the line-up with van Persie becomes better with Rosicky or Wilshere in the team, I think that the versatility Cazorla brings to the team is still more valuable. With Cazorla in the squad, along with Rosicky and Wilshere, it lets Wenger change around the team at will both during games and between them. He can play Cazorla on the left if he wants Jack’s driving influence or Tomas’ brilliant pressing. He can have Cazorla drop off into the left or right midfield position while Podolski and/or Walcott move up to join Giroud in a temporary 4-4-2. He can play Cazorla in front of Wilshere and Rosicky if he wants three creative midfielders in the team who can all create something from nothing.
This is not all blind conjecture. Arsenal have scored 97 goals this season, with no one scoring more than 18 (Walcott) and four players have scored more than 10, and there are still five games remaining. That’s three more than they scored last year, and only two players scored more than 10 (Walcott and RVP). In addition, they have been much better defensively, letting in 15 fewer goals than last season.
Everything points to the fact that the Gunners are playing as more of a team this year instead of being reliant on a single player. There’s no denying that van Persie was brilliant last year. But I think that Arsenal are at least as good this year as they were last, and most importantly, I do not think that they would have performed better with this year’s van Persie in the squad as compared to last. He will have scored 7 or 8 fewer goals this season in addition to having 4 or 5 fewer assists. Although that’s more than Cazorla has brought to the team, I think Cazorla has drastically improved every player around him while also contributing to the balance of the squad.
If Arsenal finish in the top 4, I think they are in a much better position without van Persie than they would be with him. They are more financially stable without him and don’t have to deal with the headache that will be his contract. He wouldn’t have done anything more than propel them into the top 4 and I think they are much better poised to win something next season—provided they get into the Champions League and spend some of their new sponsorship money.
In Arsene We Trust.