Loyalty in football, what does it mean? What do fans really expect from their players? Essentially, loyalty is a sense of duty, a sense that you owe something to someone and will stick by them until that debt is played. In the wake of the Calciopoli scandal, Juventus' players took sizeable paycuts, Angelo Di Livio a reported 90%, and dropped down the footballing ladder, in a show of supreme loyalty to their beleaguered employers. On the flipside, Jermain Defoe handed in a transfer request the day after his West Ham side were relegated, putting his own career before any sense of loyalty to the club that made him who he was.
So what of Robin Van Persie, Arsenal's latest wantaway star? Accused from all angles of displaying a lack of loyalty for seemingly trying to manufacture a way out of the club, with recent history suggesting he may fancy himself lining up in sky blue next year, but is he being disloyal? Many have pointed to Arsene Wenger's patience with him, moulding him from a gangly, tempestuous youth into football's most feared striker, nursing him through his well documented injury problems and rewarding him with the captain's armband and the number 10 shirt. To my mind, Robin Van Persie owed us one thing after the patience we showed with him: goals, and he delivered, by the crate load. If rumours are to be believed and he is seriously considering swapping red for red, in favour of a move to the Champions, then he clearly just wants a change, which for me is much better than if he were holding the club to ransom over extortionate wages. Robin owes us nothing, and if anything, his departure could be a blessing in disguise.
You see, the thing that has worried me the most about Arsenal over the past...I don't know, 5 or so seasons, is their insistence on building teams around one player. First Henry, then Fabregas, now Van Persie. This attitude is completely antithetical to the attitude that saw Arsenal rightly dubbed "The Invincibles", where every player worked for each other, to devastating effect. It's worried me because by doing that you're almost admitting that the rest of your squad ain't up to scratch. Your sharpest weapon therefore becomes your weakest link. Stop Van Persie, stop Arsenal. No great title winning side has ever succeeded that way. I mean, when we won the title at Old Trafford in that invincible season, it was Kanu & Wiltord leading the line, not Henry & Bergkamp. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts, and that hasn't been the case at the Emirates for a long time.
Your sharpest weapon therefore becomes your weakest link. Stop Van Persie, stop Arsenal. No great title winning side has ever succeeded that way
Now though, I am more optimistic about Arsenal's chances than I have been for a long time. Not only have we wrapped up our main business already, allowing the players time to bed in and gel, but the signings, Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla, feel like the kind of players who made Arsenal great not so long ago. Players who will provide competition for places, players not too well known on these shores, players who aren't stars, but will still shine. Then there's the returning players like Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere, along with the likes of Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain who are bound to have a big season, and to anyone who harps on about defensive frailties, well, I wouldn't swap Koscielny, Vermaelen or Sagna for anyone in the league, while Santos and Gibbs have both shown signs that they could become top quality left backs. And let's not forget, Arsene Wenger has already made his best defensive signing of the summer by promoting Steve Bould to assistant manager. If he can't get our back four solid, nobody can.
Cazorla in particular reminds me of one of Arsene's best signings, that of Gilberto Silva. It was after Korea / Japan 2002, rumour was abounding that Arsenal were signing a Brazillian World Cup winner, something which didn't sound like a very Arsenal thing to do. Rivaldo? Ronaldinho? Of course, it turned out to be the unsung hero, the engine room of that Brazil side. Sure, Cazorla wasn't as integral to Spain's side as Gilberto was to Brazil's, but he could be Arsenal's engine room, the fulcrum of the team for years to come.
So please guys, don't get upset about Van Persie wanting to leave for pastures new. Look at who we've got coming in, and on balance, you'll see there's definite cause for optimism in North London this season.
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