By George Ankers
As Arsene Wenger reacted angrily to questions and insisted that he has not yet received any bids for much-talked-about captain Robin van Persie, it was hard not to wonder: When did Arsenal’s summer stop going so well?
At the start of the between-seasons break, the Gunners were rightly drawing praise for the way in which they were addressing the issues that had blighted them in 2011.
Eager to avoid the delays that saw Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri sold far too late to find adequate replacements or regain momentum, key targets were identified and recruited swiftly. Lukas Podolski’s arrival was confirmed before last term was even finished. Olivier Giroud soon followed.
Yann M’Vila was picked out as the defensive midfielder that Arsenal had badly lacked, and his signing appeared all but done.
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And Van Persie, the talismanic captain who all but single-handedly drove the Gunners from a shambolic, self-destructive start to a miraculous third place in the Premier League, was widely expected to extend his contract and make himself an enduring hero in north London.
Now, though, we are three weeks since the Dutchman announced his intention to depart the Emirates Stadium and another seemingly endless transfer saga engulfed Arsenal.
Manchester City and United are both publicly interested but, as Wenger furiously declared that no offer has been received, it is a tale that seems in no way yet fully told.
Van Persie will be desperate to get his wish and exit before the window closes and his suitors are clearly biding their time. Meanwhile, the uncertainty goes on and on around the club’s best player.
The Netherlands man having refused to travel on their pre-season tour of Asia, Arsenal were unconvincing in their first friendly, recovering very late to beat a Malaysia XI, before being brushed aside by City in Beijing. Their skipper’s finishing prowess was conspicuous by its absence.
Wenger has previously declared that more signings are incoming to plug the gaps that need plugging, but, as Goal.com revealed on Friday, their hopes of snapping up Santi Cazorla have hiccuped. As well as confirming the Van Persie inertia, the Frenchman told reporters that neither the much-reported Nuri Sahin nor anyone else is close to joining the club.
And so, with August on the horizon, Arsenal are in a significantly worse position than they were in June.
Haste is required to ensure that they do not repeat the mad deadline-day dash of last summer, but, if they are not in a position to accept an offer and end the Van Persie saga once and for all, it becomes much harder to seize the initiative.
The longer that this particular cloud hangs over the Emirates Stadium, the less definite that Wenger is able to be about his own plans. Nicklas Bendtner is just one player whose future may hinge on whether there is a vacancy in the forward line. Transfer budget for elsewhere in the squad certainly will.
The Gunners could, of course, keep hold of their captain. With no bids in, it might seem most obvious, and they are of course perfectly entitled to stand their ground. But they must find a way to convince Van Persie that staying would be for his own good if they are to prevent his disaffection from affecting his performances.
That means satisfying the Dutchman’s thirst for signs of ambition by continuing to bring in talent. If Arsenal play their cards right, recruit quickly enough to prepare and start well, a strong first few months of the season could convince Van Persie to extend his contract before it expires.
Such a situation is a long way away as it stands, though. Eventually settling on £15-25m now rather than 12 months of service from an unhappy player seems the most likely outcome, but the emphasis grows on the word ‘eventually’.
The problem is that Arsenal have previous. United and, particularly, City will know all about the Fabregas and Nasri sales. They will be happy to wait. Arsenal cannot afford to.
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