After 81 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday, Arsenal were being held to a draw by a resilient Sunderland side before Wes Brown gave away a needless free kick and up stepped Arsenal’s most senior player, Robin van Persie, to whip it into the net and secure his team 3 points. Having also netted Arsenal’s first goal it would be fair to assume that the Gunners would have struggled to better Sunderland without their captain.
It could well be a situation they are in come next summer when the 28-year-old will have one year remaining on his contract and if Arsenal are to continue their policy of cashing in on their older players before losing them for free, in the way they did with Viera and Henry for instance, they will look to move him on for a fee. Particularly as van Persie will be entering the latter stages of his career and may only have 2 or 3 years at the top level left, he himself will want to cash in both financially and in terms of playing at the highest level.
It is now almost a certainty that Arsenal will not be in the Champions League next year which further strengthens the chances of Van Persie leaving and begs the question of how Arsenal can replace their talismanic captain. A lot of fans will point to using the money in the bank and buying a marquee centre forward, however those marquee players are already playing in the Champions League and will have little desire to surrender this and here lies Arsenal’s biggest problem. Even if they do find a player they believe suitable to replace Van Persie as well as a player who has a desire to join them, they are simply not going to be able to pay top level wages without the gate receipts, win bonuses and TV money of the Champions League.
This can then only mean bringing in more unproven players and hoping they develop into top quality players capable of reaching the top 4 of the Premier League. With recent signings such as Chamakh, Koscielny and Gervinho looking far from Champions League material and all arriving from France, Arsene Wenger will have to seriously reconsider whether the French market is the best place to shop for talent.
It may also lead some of Arsenal’s current senior players to consider moves to Champions League clubs if they do not see a swift return to the competition as well as challenging for league titles, something Arsenal can ill afford.
Of course, this is all conjecture because Arsenal may finish 5th, Van Persie may sign a new deal and if the dross in the shape of Rosicky, Arshavin and Squillaci can be offloaded and replaced well, Arsene Wenger’s team could well be in a strong position to challenge Liverpool and Tottenham for 4th spot next season.