With Euro 2012 now done and dusted, the biggest story in the football world is undoubtedly the Robin Van Persie situation.
After a brilliant season which saw the Arsenal skipper score 37 goals in all competitions, Van Persie has finally declared that he will not be extending his contract at Arsenal amid endless transfer speculation. As the Dutchman's contract finishes at the end of next season, Arsenal will now have to make the decision of whether they want to sell him in this transfer window to one of his many suitors, or let him go for free next summer.
It's no secret that Arsenal have a tendency to sell their star players, but despite the media making it seem like a crisis for the Gunners every time they let one of their big name players leave, many forget how well Arsene Wenger has dealt with these situations.
After the sales of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal looked poised to have their worst season for years. It all started with spectacular failure with a humiliating 8-2 loss against Manchester United, a 2-0 home defeat against Liverpool, and a 4-3 loss away to Blackburn.
But Arsenal somehow pulled it together (well, they got some help from a certain Dutchman), and in the end finished higher than the previous season, clinching automatic Champions League football with a third place finish.
So with a Robin Van Persie departure looking likely, things are all too familiar for Arsenal fans. The club is once again struggling to keep hold of its best players, and fears over Arsenal turning into a club that fights for a Champions League spot rather than trophies are growing. The media will once again try to make it seem like there's a crisis at Arsenal, but does that ever really phase them?
When Van Persie does end his eight year spell at Arsenal, it will certainly be the close of an era. He was the last player in the squad to have won a trophy with the Gunners (2005 FA Cup), so his departure would mean the last Arsenal trophy-winner is gone.
But with the end of an era comes the beginning of a new one, and Robin Van Persie leaving would give Arsenal the opportunity to move on and look to win trophies with the current crop of players. Arsene Wenger has arguably had the best transfer activity so far, bringing in Lukas Podolski as a big-name signing as well as Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud.
These are two attacking-minded players who can score goals as well as create them. Podolski netted 18 goals as well as 7 assists, a remarkable tally considering his only source of "ammunition" was his teammates at relegated FC Cologne. Now just imagine what he can do with the likes of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and more feeding him.
Olivier Giroud, on the other hand, led Montpellier to a shocking Ligue 1 title victory with his 21 goals, sealing his spot as the league's joint top scorer. Although he may come off as a poacher-type striker, Giroud was signed by Arsenal because he's more than that. He had nine assists for Montpellier as well as 47 key passes, showing that he has more than one dimension to his play up front.
As I couldn't see Giroud, Podolski, and Van Persie all together in a starting XI, Van Persie's departure gives Podolski and Giroud the opportunity to form a brilliant strike partnership. I'm not saying it's a good thing that Van Persie will leave, but with Podolski and Giroud now at the club, it's a perfect set-up for a new source of goals and assists.
Assuming Van Persie will be gone for the 2012-13 season, I see Arsenal's best possible lineup being in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Many predicted Podolski would play out on the left this season for Arsenal, but with Van Persie leaving it would be best for the German international to take on the centre forward role. This would be better for both player and club: As a player, Podolski got his 18 goals and 7 assists for FC Cologne in this position, and he's more comfortable there than on the left wing. For Arsenal as a club, Podolski would be much more productive as a centre forward as his efforts on the left wing are usually average as seen with Germany this summer.
Playing in front of Podolski would be Olivier Giroud, the more out-and-out forward. Rather than playing next to each other in a 4-4-2, I think Arsenal could get the most out of the two prolific forwards by playing Podolski as a centre forward behind Giroud as a pure striker in a 4-4-1-1.
Overall, Arsenal's predicted starting XI still looks like one that can compete for trophies. They've got Szczesny between the sticks and although he has shaky moments, he looks better with every match. The back four consists of Sagna at right back, Koscielny and Vermaelen in the middle, and Gibbs on the left.
In Sagna, Arsenal has a world class right back, and in Koscielny and Vermaelen they have one of the best centre-back partnerships in the Premier League. Although Vermaelen's defending was suspect at times in 2011-12, Koscielny was rock solid throughout his second season and is by far the Gunners' most improved player. Gibbs and Andre Santos will continue to fight for the left back spot, but I think Gibbs will get it for now. He's shown improvements this past season, and hopefully he'll become less injury prone.
In midfield, Arsenal have a variety of options. My suggested 4-4-1-1 is only an option for Arsene Wenger, who seems to be very stubborn about sticking to his 4-3-2-1 with three midfielders, two wingers and one striker. But that formation wouldn't suit both Podolski and Giroud playing together, so it's likely we'll see a change in formation for the 2012-13 season.
Assuming Wenger does choose some sort of 4-4-1-1 formation, he'll have three midfielders deserving of a starting spot fighting for only two places. Those midfielders are Alex Song, Jack Wilshere (returning from injury), and Mikel Arteta. The Song-Wilshere, Song-Arteta, or Arteta-Wilshere combination could all work, but there will surely be one that Arsene Wenger sticks with if he does in fact switch to a 4-4-1-1.
Either of those three combinations in centre midfield would be playing with Walcott on the right wing and Chamberlain on the left, but this is once again another position that Arsenal has a variety of options in. Gervinho could play on the left flank as well, but the 18-year-old Chamberlain was more impressive this season after Gervinho lacked form following the Africa Cup of Nations.
Up top would be, as I already mentioned, Podolski playing behind Giroud. There's no doubt that this strike partnership has the potential to be one of the best in the league, with the pair having better players to feed them at Arsenal than they did at their previous clubs in Montpellier and FC Cologne, respectively.
To sum things up, there's nothing pretty about Robin Van Persie leaving. Arsenal fans like myself will have expected more from the captain that we've supported for seven injury-ravaged seasons, and it's alarming that after his first full, healthy season with the club he decides to leave rather than repaying Arsenal with some loyalty after the loyalty they showed for him.
The manner in which he's leaving is upsetting, but Arsenal should make the best of it and see it as an opportunity to build a fresher squad around exciting new players like Podolski and Giroud, as well as players already at the club like Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, among others.
With Van Persie set to leave, it looks like Arsenal could already be looking to sign their third striker of the summer, something that would be a smart move in convincing the fans and players that the club can move on and add on their impressive transfer activity so far.
Contrary to what people will say, things aren't looking too bad for Arsenal at the moment. It's been less than a week since the transfer window has opened and they've already signed two of the most exciting forwards in Europe. I'm not expecting the transfers to end there, and after last summer, Arsene Wenger will certainly tread the waters more carefully and be more efficient with his dealings.
It's too bad Robin Van Persie isn't the captain he seemed to be, and if he does in fact leave for Manchester City, he'll be going against everything that the club he apparently loves so much stands for.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Summer after summer Arsenal lose their top players, are predicted for disaster and still have good seasons. With Arsene Wenger breaking his transfer habits recently, this season could be Arsenal's season despite the heartbreaking departure of their captain.
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