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The Robin Van Persie Saga

The RvP Saga: Can Arsenal Compete?

Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie’s decision to seek pastures new begs one fundamental question: with Arsene Wenger changing tact and buying (RVP’s backup) early, how strong are Arsenal in-depth? Can they compete with oil money, from the United Arab Emirates and Russia?

RVP’s disagreements with Wenger and Arsenal Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ivan Gazidis over “the way Arsenal FC should move forward” have been interpreted as greed. But a cursory look at the first team stats for 2011-12 reveal that Wenger did not trust as many of his lieutenants as Mancini or Ferguson did in the blue and red halves of Manchester. In a season of over 50 games, those who started over 70 per cent of games (35 or more) numbered eight; this number may have swelled by one, considering that Bacary Sagna remained in the injury room for a large part of the season.

 

Premier League

Europe

FA Cup

League Cup

Total

 

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Wojciech Szczesny

38

0

9

0

1

0

0

0

48

0

Robin van Persie

37+1

30

6+2

5

2

2

0

0

45+3

37

Theo Walcott

32+3

8

8

2

1+2

1

0

0

41+5

11

Aaron Ramsey

27+7

2

5+2

1

3

0

0

0

35+9

3

Alex Song

34

1

9

0

3

0

0

0

46

1

Laurent Koscielny

33

2

6

1

2

0

1

0

42

3

Thomas Vermaelen

28+1

6

7

0

2

0

1+1

0

38+2

6

Mikel Arteta

29

6

6

0

2+1

0

0

0

37+1

6

Arsenal First Team Stats: 2011-2012

Source: Arsenal.com

 

Barring Aaron Ramsey’s unimposing season, the other seven were undoubtedly instrumental in Arsenal’s revival to third. As sublime as RVP was all season long, Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta’s integration into the first team proper gave Arsenal a strong spine. Wojciech Szczesny’s influence too cannot be underestimated; Arsenal finally had a goalkeeper after Jens Lehmann who could make saves.

Another set of eight players played around the eight who were confirmed as starting members of the Arsenal first XI (This list includes Sagna; as mentioned above, his stats would have read differently had he not been unlucky with injuries). Gervinho and Mertesacker both came with huge reputations; the former spent the first year acclimatizing while the latter showed just precisely what experience and positional play bring to a defence. To put the argument into perspective, Mertesacker is third-choice centre-back at Arsenal while City’s third choice is Kolo Toure and United play Jonny Evans as their third pick.

 

Premier League

Europe

FA Cup

League Cup

Total

 

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Ap

Gl

Tomas Rosicky

19+9

1

5+3

1

1+1

0

0

0

25+13

2

Gervinho

19+9

4

6+1

0

1

0

0+1

0

26+11

4

Bacary Sagna

20+1

1

6

0

1+1

0

0

0

27+2

1

Per Mertesacker

21

0

5

0

1

0

0

0

27

0

Johan Djourou

14+4

0

2+4

0

1

0

2

0

19+8

0

Andrey Arshavin

8+11

1

3+2

0

1

0

1+1

1

13+14

2

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

6+10

2

3+1

1

3

0

3

1

15+11

4

Yossi Benayoun

10+9

4

2+1

1

0

0

3

1

15+10

6

Arsenal First Team Stats: 2011-2012

Source: Arsenal.com

Among the 16 players listed above, the left-backs’ are conspicuous by their absence. Both Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos lost a chunk of the season out injured; the former making a total of 22 (20+2) appearances while the affable Brazilian notched up 21 (15+6).

Of the current squad, Arsenal are expected to lose Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Squillaci, Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu Young. Yossi Benayoun has returned to his parent club, Chelsea, while Denilson has decided to stay put in Brazil. Carlos Vela’s time at Arsenal too has come to an end, with him finalizing his transfer to Real Sociedad. Apart from Benayoun, losing the others from this list would not footballistically hurt Arsenal.

RVP’s argument of the club not pulling in an upwardly mobile direction thus stems from the fact that there are essentially 16-18 active squad players. This is a squad size that financially strapped clubs play with, not clubs the size of Arsenal.

And yet, back-up with loads of pedigree for RVP has already been secured, more goals have been added to the machine, while some Young Guns are also ready to challenge for a place in the squad. What was noticeable last season was the age and experience added to the Arsenal team – there were no longer a majority of kids in the first team; instead, grown-ups with a greater maturity and skill level took to the field. The imbalance of inexperience that was becoming so chronic at Arsenal had finally started to become redressed.

What remains incomplete is a reassessment of the central midfield options – backup for both Arteta and Song has become a necessity, given the end of season travails faced by Arsenal. In Arteta’s case, it has become even more important to secure backup considering that Arsenal won only one game out of the last five Premier League games in Arteta’s absence. Yann M’Vila and Lassana Diarra have been mooted as Arsenal’s solution, but equally, Javi Martinez or Capoue would also fit into Arsenal perfectly. The fact that Arsenal are making active efforts to secure an established central midfielder should be pleasing, although it might necessitate the departure of one of the young defensive midfielders. Although, most likely on a loan deal only away from the club.

For the ‘hole’ or the Cesc Fabregas role, Ibrahim Afellay, RVP’s best buddy, is constantly being linked with Arsenal. Afellay would also start the season as first choice, given Jack Wilshere’s snail-paced recovery from injury. The dutch playmaker would be available to sign very cheaply and this may well be one transfer to look out for, this summer.

It is often said that settled teams are the most effective ones: most players know how to play with each other, where they would like to receive the ball, where the other is positioned etc. Steve Bruce, for example, lost his job at Sunderland despite buying Manchester United’s bench last season simply because he could not integrate his raft of signings into his team.

For the second time in seven years, there was genuine enthusiasm among Gooners with respect to where the team was headed this forthcoming season. At a distance, Wenger seemed to have planned well for an RVP-led Arsenal. Any funds from his potential sale are likely to be reinvested, and plans changed.

And while only RVP could have led Arsenal the way he did last season, both on and off the field, perhaps he was expecting bigger names to walk through the door at the Emirates. A Hazard or a Goetze is a fan’s dream to watch, but ultimately, cash does not determine a team’s determination to win a game, or to work their socks off for each other. In an irony of sorts, RVP’s potential sale may result in that marquee arriving at the Emirates.

For Arsenal, the bottom line is simple: RVP at Arsenal, or not, the club and the fans repose their confidence in Arsene Wenger alone, and have done so since 1996. In return, Wenger has generated team after team to play the same beautiful game with even greater finesse. It is far easier for Arsenal fans to continue to repose their trust in a man who has not wronged them or betrayed them. For that, Arsenal will continue to compete. And they will do so on their own terms.

Follow me on Twitter @ASYusuf And you can also follow the sites official page on twitter @Football247Now

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