Before I properly begin I have to make it clear that I’m not pleased that Robin van Persie is most likely leaving Arsenal – if not this summer then certainly next, save for a u-turn which Sky Sports kind of predicted but then did a u-turn of their own about.
I’ll continue by saying that I’m not going to be one of those fickle fans who, as soon as their star player decides to leave, turns around and says “Well, he wasn’t that good anyway,” because that’s just delusion.
But when I look past the frustration and disillusionment about our best player once again leaving – one I was particularly fond of – it is possible to clutch at some straws which are not necessarily out of my reach; in fact, quite possible to grab, if my vision of this strange idiom is correct.
Odd ramblings aside – I’ve just gotten off the tube in the morning having listened to Alan Partridge’s reading of his ‘biography’ in audio-book format and I seem to be now immersed in his particular manner of articulating – even I, who was most adamant that losing van Persie would in fact be the end of the world, have to admit there could be some positives out there.
Comparisons are inevitably made with Thierry Henry’s final season and the aftermath of his departure; we struggled with him as the main man, and then his team-mates seemed to be liberated by his absence.
It’s absolutely true that van Persie carried Arsenal. We were at times, if we’re being honest with ourselves, a one-man team. There were plenty of points where, without his contributions, we would have most likely come away with a worse result. The 2-1s with Norwich, Sunderland and Liverpool spring to mind, in which he scored both goals.
But perhaps the Ewing theory is actually correct in this sense. If you look at it in a way where you take away van Persie’s contribution last season, Arsenal seem to have no hope next season. But it’s not realistic – in removing the Gunners’ captain’s input, they’d effectively have been playing with 10 men all season. Not realistic.
And while during games when he was absent we didn’t look particularly cohesive, those were one-off games. We’d barely have planned much for van Persie being unavailable – of course it was likely, especially with his injury record, but it wouldn’t have been wise setting aside too much time to prepare in training for times when we wouldn’t have him to rely on.
So perhaps when we know that he won’t be there we’ll form a new side – one that doesn’t rely too heavily on individuals. Comparisons are inevitably made with Thierry Henry’s final season and the aftermath of his departure; we struggled with him as the main man, and then his team-mates seemed to be liberated by his absence. The likes of Hleb, Fabregas, and Adebayor, all began to thrive without the gargantuan presence of Thierry Henry, one of the greatest legends the club has known.
Gervinho could well be Arsenal’s new Alex Hleb. Not in terms of playing style per se – Gervinho is leggy and languid where Hleb is/was sharp and nippy – but in terms of impact
Of course, Henry was already in decline in the 2006/07 season and van Persie just had the best season of his life, so comparisons fail a little in that respect. But it may be true that van Persie’s supporting cast step up after he leaves.
It’s a little difficult predicting who will step up – partly as we’ve not yet seen Arsenal’s two new signings, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, in action yet – but there are a few candidates you could pick out.
For example, Gervinho; the former Lille wide-man had a fairly quiet first season in North London, scoring 4 goals and assisting 7. Not a bad haul in total for a debut season, but fans expected more from the man plucked from Ligue Un instead of Hazard – something of a misnomer as Arsène Wenger would never have had the money to get Hazard in the first place.
However, Gervinho could well be Arsenal’s new Alex Hleb. Not in terms of playing style per se – Gervinho is leggy and languid where Hleb is/was sharp and nippy – but in terms of impact: a mixed first season before settling in and really making a name for himself. Just with less of the fleeing to Barcelona at the first chance he gets.
There’s a lot more to Walcott’s game than just running very, very fast. Combine accurate crossing, high or low (okay, mostly low) with cool finishing and you’ve got yourselves a valuable player
Another is Theo Walcott, the winger/forward/100-metre runner. Lazy tabloid generalistic ‘jokes’ aside, there’s a lot more to Walcott’s game than just running very, very fast. Combine accurate crossing, high or low (okay, mostly low) with cool finishing and you’ve got yourselves a valuable player, who admittedly might not sign a new contract himself.
Recently his connection with van Persie has been his main plus, as he laid on a great deal of the Dutchman’s goals, but perhaps he too would be liberated without feeling so obliged to cross for his captain. Walcott could very well be an excellent player in his own right, once he fully develops his composure; at times he’s been deadly in front of goal (see goals against Newcastle in Carling Cup for exhibits A & B, if you want any more I can easily provide some) yet at other times in front of goal has appeared as frightened as Harry Redknapp having been asked to take a literacy exam. It seems natural that his full composure will appear with age, maturity and experience though, and Arsène Wenger will be hoping the same.
Perhaps Aaron Ramsey might also come good in the absence of van Persie – his struggles were less related to the presence of the Dutchman; probably more to do with his own personal issues with confidence, fitness and other things, but he too may be liberated.
It sounds odd, because he’s seemed to be burdened by the extra responsibility of playing ‘the Cesc role’, but perhaps some more real responsibility might help him – instead of having to help put things on van Persie’s plate, he might thrive as a part of a cohesive unit of equals, as he seems to for Wales. That’s been one of the great mysteries, although that’s a little melodramatic, of Ramsey’s Arsenal career – still being able to perform well for Wales while struggling for Arsenal. Perhaps, in an odd way, more personal responsibility might be the key.
What is most important is that Arsenal hit the ground running – that will mean doing business as early as possible so that the new-look side can gel as quickly as they can.
On top of these three players who will hopefully step up for the Gunners, you have the two new signings as mentioned earlier, who are both very exciting prospects for the coming seasons (granted they stay that long, and I’m only 37% joking) as well as the rest of the current squad, not to mention any other potential signings. Which, being honest, there really need to be.
But as long as Arsenal get out of the van Persie saga with dignity, pride and most importantly optimism in the fan-base, it might not be as bad as many, myself included, predicted. Arsène Wenger has constantly managed to shuffle the pack, and if he plays his hand right, it could be a better season than it seems.
What is most important is that Arsenal hit the ground running – that will mean doing business as early as possible so that the new-look side can gel as quickly as they can. That may mean losing a few quid along the way, but Arsenal can’t afford to haggle on prices over the summer at the expense of cohesion. If they start badly, they could miss out on the Champions League, as they almost did last season. The foundations are there for a better season than many expect, but Arsenal and Wenger will have to play their cards right.
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