By Nicholas Spiller
Last week Arsenal captain and top striker Robin van Persie made his summer intentions clear by announcing that he would not be signing a contract extension with the London club. Although manager Arsene Wenger has already moved to replace the Netherlands international by signing duo Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, the idea of yet another Gunners star to depart the club rings a menacing bell that Arsenal has evolved into a modern day selling club.
Arsenal seems to pluck all the young talent, develop it to the brink of greatness, and then moan as they see the great players depart for higher salaries at big spending clubs like Manchester City and Barcelona. The Robin van Persie situation is just the latest of many players who have moved on for the common reason of wanting to “win trophies.”
It actually started when Thierry Henry departed to Barcelona in an effort to win the Champions League. This was a lesser blow as Henry was 30 and had already achieved legendary status with the club. But then the ripples began to build.
The following summer, both Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb departed to AC Milan and Barcelona to increase their wealth and championship potential. The exodus was on.
In 2009, as Manchester City began hurling dollars for players, both Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure called quits on the Gunners and went north.
These departures hurt more. These were players in the prime of their careers and their departures signified a lack of belief in the Arsenal, who is becoming widely known as rather cheap spenders.
Hope still pervaded around the Emirates Stadium as the team played well under young captain Cesc Fabregas, who repeatedly linked up with Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri to keep Arsenal in contention. However, Fabregas’ exit to Barcelona was simply a matter of when for the Spaniard. Watching him depart last August hurt, but was made worse as it seems to have completely deflated the team.
Nasri quickly jumped ship to Manchester City along with defender Gael Clichy, and now Robin van Persie looks ready to set sail after his first 30 goal season. Further providing trauma to Arsenal fans is that Theo Walcott looks more and more likely to go as well after his contract talks with the club seem to have stalled.
The crying shame for Arsenal is that their best players want to leave the club before having achieved anything. Arsenal has turned into a springboard for players to catch the eye of big spenders and showcase their abilities, not the prestigious club that players will want to spend their entire careers with.
Because of these miserable transfers, the club has never been able to form a solid core of leaders. Wenger seems to be sensing this reality by buying up a lot of British talent in Jack Wilshire, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the hopes that they will be more loyal to the club. However, as Walcott now seems ready to leave the idea could implode. Young players are provided every opportunity to succeed at the club, earning starter spots at age 18 or 19, but as they come into their prime in their mid 20’s they get bored, depart, and the cycle begins anew.
As an Arsenal fan, the cycle is becoming too painful to endure. Arsenal’s hopes now reside in players like Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song, and Wilshire. Perhaps these players will show more loyalty to this great club than their predecessors, but I feel that such a change simply requires money. If Arsenal can start paying these players the extreme wages that they so desire (and can get elsewhere), only then will we see Arsenal retain their talent and dominate the Premiership as they once did in the glory days of Henry.
If you can’t stop the great players from leaving the club, then the dominos start to fall: One leaves and then the others follow. But can you blame the players? While they do want higher wages they really just want to win trophies. And cruelly, that’s what happens when they do leave Arsenal. Evidence right this way:
Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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