2011/12 Campaign (3rd in the Premier League)
Last season looked as if it could spell the end of Arsene Wenger’s more glorious than not reign at the North London side early on, as the Gunners slumped to an 8-2 defeat at the hands of eventual runners-up Manchester United, which saw Wenger’s team sit in 17th place after three games. However, although the defeat and shoddy start to the opening of the campaign triggered an uncharacteristic flurry of transfer activity from Wenger, in terms of money and men, the Frenchman remained at the helm and guided Arsenal to yet another Champions League qualification spot finish – something which he has thus far never failed to do since his 1996 appointment.
Arsenal’s late splurge of cash to bring in 28-year old Andre Santos, 29-year old Mikel Arteta and 31-year old Yossi Benayoun on deadline day last year was unconventional: simply put, Wenger has always bought young and sold old. Yet, he can be forgiven for his unexpected behaviour as it addressed an urgent need for stability and reassurance, following a loss of both, which had been overlooked in the past two years as a core of key players departed the Emirates in the shape of Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas.
This year, although the solution seemingly matched the problem as Arsenal went on to finish only behind the Manchester duopoly, the same actions cannot be expected – nor tolerated. They do, however, point towards a bright future for Arsenal, at least on a financial front, whether their flying Dutchman departs or not.
If Robin van Persie is indeed sold it is nothing short of Arsene Wenger’s best economic practice – he usually flogs his midfielders and strikers at the 28-year old mark: Marc Overmars was sold for £25m aged 27, Emmanuel Petit left for £7m aged 29, Patrick Vieira was sold to Juventus aged 29 for £14m and Thierry Henry was sold for £16m aged 29. van Persie is 28-years old and the price tag on his head is £20m. It’s the done thing at Arsenal and not one of the players mentioned above went on to replicate the form they did whilst under Wenger’s tutelage at any of their clubs after.
Furthermore, the problems that would be left behind by his departure have already been answered this summer transfer window, through the £19.5m combined acquisitions of international strikers Lukas Podolski, German, and Olivier Giroud, French, whilst the parallels to last time Arsenal’s leading man left are uncanny.
Much like when Wenger unearthed Juventus’ reserve left winger Theirry Henry and converted him into a centre forward, the French manager did the same with van Persie and similarly, in the way that Giroud and Podolski have been purchased to compete with each other and potentially replace the latter, van Persie and Reyes were bought when Henry was first linked with moves away from Arsenal in 2004, before eventually leaving in 2007. van Persie succeeded where Reyes was less proficient – Wenger has taken the same security again in signing both Giroud and Podolski.
To further convince any believers that life after van Persie is not all doom and gloom, take this comparison appraisal: to say Arsenal made a profit of £5.5m on Thierry Henry when they sold him to FC Barcelona for £16m eight years after purchasing him for £10.5m is wrong – considering the inflation in transfer fees, the net present value of Henry’s £10.5m 1999 acquisition was roughly £20m in 2007, thus meaning Arsenal made a loss of £4m in real terms. Still, a small price to pay for the club’s all-time top goalscorer. In contrast, Robin van Persie was purchased for £2.75m in 2004, which, as a current transfer fee purchase price, converts to roughly £6.44m. (To explain, if they bought the 20-year old RVP tomorrow, he would cost £6.44m) Therefore, if they sell him for circa. £20m, they are up on their money to the tune of just under £14m. Not bad, considering RVP’s goals to game ratio is 0.47 to Henry’s 0.61.
So far Arsenal’s only transfer activity has circulated round Robin van Persie and his likely departure – fortunately, they are prepared for it. However, aside from Giroud and Podolski, Arsenal are yet to make any other purchases and a defensive fragility must be addressed between now and the closing of the window at the end of August. With just over a month to go before deadline day is upon us, Wenger has plenty of time to make his moves: however, with the Premier League kick-off under 20 days away, there is less time for his squad to be fully assembled in time for their season opener against Sunderland.
Although little can be read into the preseason results, Arsenal have only recorded one 90-minute match win – a 2-1 triumph over a Malaysia XI. Aside from that, Arsenal have: won the annual triangular Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup tournament hosted by Premier League newcomers Southampton F.C, in which they beat Anderlecht 1-0 over 45-minutes, before losing in a penalty shootout to the hosts after a 1-1 draw; lost 2-0 to Premier League Champions Manchester City; and drew two a piece with Kitchee FC. Their next scheduled friendly is against new boy Lukas Podolski’s old side FC Cologne.
Prediction for 2012/13
Arsenal’s success should not hinge on whether Robin van Persie stays or goes – his departure looks imminent and undoubted anyway. Rather, how well they do may come down to what Wenger does between now and September in regards to defensive reinforcements. In Laurent Koscielny, who recently signed a new five-year deal despite interest from FC Barcelona, and Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal have a solid centre-back partnership which can flourish with the correct level of playing time that has thus far been hindered by injuries to both.
Considering Bacary Sagna is still injured and Andre Santos spent much of last season injured himself, perhaps wing backs are where Arsenal can reassert a dominance in a potential title challenge, with Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson possibly still too young and/or inexperienced to handle the weekly rigours of defensive duties at the very top, whilst also being the victims of rotation in their position. For Arsenal to be serious contenders for a top four finish, consistency will be vital at the back.