Robin van Persie (left) trying to get past Newcastle's Mike Williamson
on Monday. His career is at a crossroads after one trophy in eight
LONDON: As the crowd at the Emirates Stadium
leapt to their feet enraptured by his 33rd goal of the season, Robin van
Persie kept his serious 'game face' on.
He exchanged a quick slap of
hands with Theo Walcott, thanking the winger for supplying the final
pass, and then wheeled around and raced towards the centre circle,
waving his teammates back, too.
'Come on, don't let up, we've still got work
to do,' the Arsenal captain's body language was saying during Monday's
Premier League win over Newcastle. In that match, he also argued
heatedly with Dutch compatriot Tim Krul, goading the Newcastle
goalkeeper after Thomas Vermaelen scored a late winner for Arsenal.
How good to see van Persie so
engaged. His passion, leadership and commitment are exactly what the
doctor ordered for Arsene Wenger's team as they seek to put a vaguely
decent finish on a season that has had the consistency and sexiness of
But what is in this relationship for van Persie? Do Arsenal deserve and can they afford to keep a player this good?
At 28, he is in his prime. Should he spend any
more of them at a club who have not won a trophy since 2005, be loyal
like Steven Gerrard has been to Liverpool? Or is now, when van Persie's
star is highest, the time for him to cash in and move to another team
that might actually win something? The answers he and Arsenal provide
over the coming months will, for both, be an acid test of their
characters and ambition.
It will become harder to regard Arsenal as one
of Europe's truly big clubs if they cannot get him to sign a new
contract, if they let him wriggle free as they did midfielders Cesc
Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer.
A club that consistently let others entice
their best talents - and the list at Arsenal has grown long in recent
years - should not be taken too seriously.
Manchester City are reportedly dangling an
eye-wateringly rich deal at van Persie. As they did with Nasri,
disappointed Arsenal fans will accuse him of being mercenary if he takes
it. But it would also be another sign that Arsenal either are not able
or willing to spend what is necessary to be competitive.
Van Persie is playing so well for Arsenal that
he could probably move to any club he likes. With 26 goals in 28 league
appearances this season, he is operating in the same rarified realm as
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, both setting a blistering
goal-scoring pace in Spain, and outstripping the Bundesliga's top
scorer, Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich.
Few goals are better than the volleys, both
from insightful Alex Song passes, that van Persie scored against Everton
in December and at Liverpool this month. Both showed fabulous
technique, balance and eye-foot coordination from the player whose
parents are artists and who once told an interviewer that the football
pitch is 'my canvas'.
'I see solutions, possibilities, the space to express myself,' he said.
Both those goals also were match-winners. Time
and again this season, it has been evident that without van Persie, who
has scored nearly half of Arsenal's 57 Premier League goals, Wenger's
side would be nowhere, flailing around in the middle of the league table
or worse. Instead, his players are now legitimately setting their
sights on taking third place from Tottenham, which would at least
guarantee Champions League football for Arsenal next season.
'Without a doubt he has to be player of the
year,' Walcott said this week of van Persie. But the fact remains that,
in eight years, the Dutchman has won only one trophy, the 2005 FA Cup. A
player of his calibre could rightfully argue that he should have won
If the club do not line up more players to
recruit this summer, especially a proven goal-scorer who could back him
up, he is likely to leave for greener pastures.
Quite right, too. Because van Persie is too good to be wasting his best years on also-rans.