When Robin van Persie issued his statement in the summer of 2012 Arsenal fans were shocked. Most had expected him to stay, given what he and his family had been saying about their love for Arsenal in the months previously.
The statement, designed as it was, seemed geared towards turning Arsenal fans against their club but it backfired and they turned on Van Persie instead. When he made a late appearance on the pre-season tour that year he was booed and Lukas Podolski was greeted to a rendition of ‘he scores when he wants’, a song previously saved for Robin.
That he then went to Manchester United turned Arsenal fans even further against him and it is an anger which shows no signs of dying down, at least not in my household and with those that I know. It was the ultimate betrayal, but I’m starting to see now how him leaving was perhaps the best thing for the Arsenal team as a whole.
Dennis Bergkamp speaks in his autobiography about how Arsene Wenger doesn’t like his teams to be dependent on one player, it makes them vulnerable, and that’s exactly what had happened with the Dutchman.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened at Arsenal either – the same could be said when Thierry Henry was at the club in his latter years and Cesc Fabregas – the team always looked for those players.
Now, without one ‘main man’ the team has grown in confidence, aware that they are all as important as each other, and they take responsibility. The result? Arsenal are top of the table nine points clear of Manchester United and over the course of 2013 have played 23 league games, won 18 of them and lost just two since they went to Spurs and lost.
Van Persie leaving shook Arsenal, that much has been admitted and that would help to explain why the start to the 2012-13 season was so rocky, but since then, can you really say that he has been missed? Certainly not this season.
A team is only as good as its weakest links and with Arsenal shipping out a lot of their deadweight over the summer they helped strengthen the whole team. Adding Mesut Ozil was, of course, a massive boost as well, but I can’t help but wonder would Aaron Ramsey have started to shine so brightly if he was hidden behind the blinding light of Robin van Persie? Part of me doesn’t think so.
Of course, you always want world class players in your side and for all the anger I still harbour towards our former captain there is no doubting that is exactly what he is. Without him it is doubtful Manchester United would have won the league last season and that hurts.
At the time Arsene Wenger said he allowed van Persie to leave for ‘football reasons’ and we shook our heads – how could that possibly be? Perhaps that was a smokescreen from Arsene, a man who would never criticise a player, past or present no matter how they behaved, but maybe, just maybe, there was more truth to it than we ever thought possible.