Six Points: Manchester United’s signing of Robin Van Persie

Barclays Premier League runners-up Manchester United have essentially signed Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie for a fee worth £24 million. The Netherlands international is subject to a medical, however it has been reported that he shall start in United’s opening fixture of the new season away to Everton at Goodison Park on Monday. The news comes after Van Persie revealed in a statement on his website to Gunners fans alike that he has intentions to leave the club and seek football elsewhere. Manchester United’s interest in him sparked shock from fans and neutrals, and whether the original rumours were true. Now that he is only subject to a medical, it seems as though Sir Alex Ferguson is looking to strengthen his attack in order to topple local rivals Manchester City for the league title.

Rumours of Dimitar Berbatov departing from Manchester United have circulated the Bulgarian striker since the start of the summer. His future is unclear, however, he too has signalled his intentions, in wanting to remain with the club and push for a first team place. But now that media sources have revealed his employers’ interest in another centre forward, whether he remains a United player for much longer lingers in doubt. His contract, apparently, expires next summer in June 2013 and there are fears that the 31-year-old may leave on a free transfer. His signing back in the latter stages of transfer deadline day from Tottenham Hotspur for £30.75million, breaking United’s transfer record, has seen him find the net 56 times in 149 outings in all competitions. Others have criticised this and classed him as a flop but this latest signing will not help matters in his regards.

Javier Hernández is another under the spotlight. Though his future is not under threat as it has been the case for his team mate Berbatov, his involvement in the new Premier League campaign is another that raises doubts. Now at 24, ‘Chicharito’ scored 10 goals in 28 appearances for Sir Alex’s men as the ran it close with Mancini’s City in the fight for the titles, whilst coming off the bench regularly to sometimes score that much needed goal in the dying embers of a game. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck’s strong front man partnership last year forced Hernández to play third-fiddle to the England internationals, with some rumouring that he wants out of Old Trafford. The reports are yet to be fully materialised as truth, but it does not withstand the situation surrounding the ex-Chivas Guadalajara forward.

Here are the six points:

1. Manchester United are sending out a title warning

Alongside Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Sir Alex’s motives are clear. The Premier League title race was ran too close last season, with the worst possible outcome within a rollercoaster thirty seconds, which saw the league won and lost. The margins between the two Manchester clubs are not something either manager will want come next May, though it may appease to the millions of neutrals who tuned in to experience an enthralling final day.

Van Persie’s scintillating season last campaign for the Gunners, which saw him score 30 goals in 38 appearances in the league, securing the Premier League’s golden boot award were perhaps what the Red Devils lacked in closing the eight-point goal difference gap that grew bigger over the run-in. Had Rooney and Welbeck found the net another nine times in the remaining games, as well as not suffering complacent form, the title would and should have been United’s. The 4-4 draw to Everton at home, the 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic at the DW and the huge decider against City at the Etihad all come to mind – and no less gruelling memories for the Manchester United faithful.

In the case of Shinji Kagawa, his introduction into the runners-up’s ranks was much earlier, joining the club’s pre-season tour of Asia, Norway and Germany. Alongside Nick Powell, the duo were presented in front of press officers back in Manchester with pictures of them holding up their names and numbers printed on the back of replica shirts engulfing social networking sites. And despite Powell not being a first-team player yet at such a tender age of 18, his performances for the reserves squad and perhaps some cameo appearances in the domestic cup competitions will approve the opinions of some that he is worth the money he was paid for.

For Manchester City their relatively quiet transfer activity during this summer has frustrated both the manager Roberto Mancini and fans alike. Seemingly on the back of winning the league in such dramatic fashion, many were under the assumption that there would be wholesale changes to the side, with many going out that in – particular in the case of Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko and Roqué Santa Cruz in preference of young, talented forwards.

Instead, Jack Rodwell’s transfer from Everton is materialising and will not start in David Moyes’ opening fixture against Manchester United. It comes as a small indignation to clubs other than the red half of Manchester that the title race may not be so close this time, though that could prove to be a foolish hypothesis come the end of the season.

2. Arsenal fans feel aggrieved, but rather revengeful

There probably is an apology yet to be made to the many Arsenal fans who have felt betrayed by yet another one of their captains leaving the club in search of competition elsewhere. Robin Van Persie’s slightly informal message left on his website left many enraged as to why he would turn back on words he had said a year and a half ago. It is believed that he exclaimed words of determination to remain at the Emirates and capture the club’s first piece of silverware since defeating United in the 2005 FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium. However things have seemingly changed. Now he has signed for the club which has been as level-necking with the Gunners for over two decades. The two have not exchanged players since French central defender Mikaël Silvestre joined Arsène Wenger’s side on a free transfer in 2008.

Van Persie’s goals last season were partially what powered Arsenal to their achieved third place position. 41% of the Holland-born man’s goals contributed to the 74 scored overall, with Theo Walcott, Mikael Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen and Gervinho the other top scorers. In other competitions, he scored four goals in seven appearances during the Gunners’ run in the UEFA Champions League which saw them knocked out by Massimiliano Allegri’s AC Milan in the quarter-finals, as well as twice in two appearances during the FA Cup run, ending in the fifth round to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

And though there was a large reliance on RVP to find the net, clinching the position of third place, in spite of not reaching the top three until the final nine games of the season, support in the midfield from a magnificent Mikel Arteta and Alex Song were very much deciding factors.

Pre-season has also been productive for the north London side. Lukas Podolski’s long-awaited transfer to the club was completed after being agreed long before the end of the season, joining from Bundesliga outfit FC Köln. Olivier Giroud also signed from Ligue 1 champions Montpellier Hérault after a transfer clause embedded within his contract was triggered, therefore allowing the France international to hold talks with Arsène in coming to England. Both forwards were instrumental for their own previous club sides respectively, and combined scored 30 goals in 71 appearances, with an incredible 77% contribution rate to their sides’ overall goal scoring tallies.

With such signings Gunners fans feel like they’d needn’t worry about losing Van Persie as much as they have now replaced one man with two. The £24 million transfer fee has settled emotions that were once raucous with anger disparity, but now looking forward to their team’s opening game of the new season against Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland.

But in relation to others, such as Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu-Yong and Marouane Chamakh, the three remain on the peripherals of the senior squad and the reserves. Bendtner’s loan spell at Sunderland distracted the rumours surrounding him in his status in the side being deemed ‘surplus to requirements’, as the same has been said for Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh for quite some time. Park Chu-Yong has only recently joined the club since signing from AS Monaco in 2011, and has only made one appearance so far, with the rest coming from time in the reserves.

What is to come from Arsenal in light of losing another star player to a strong team could only be hoped as a strong foundation being built on the third place secured last year; UEFA Champions League football and potentially reaching the semi-finals after last year’s elimination to Rossoneri, an appearance in the last eight of both the FA Cup and now-named Capital One Cup, and a stronger defensive unit that does not suffer many more injuries which, in the past, has always halted the Arsenal.

3.    An approaching 30 player with glass legs bought for more than £20 million – any positives?

Many would criticise that the move made by Sir Alex Ferguson to purchase Robin Van Persie is a step in the wrong direction. The main features of the argument seem to remain around the 29-year-old’s injury track record, which has seen him on the sidelines with more than several injuries – particularly with his thigh, hamstring and back. Moreover, his one season in scoring an excessive amount of goals for which were not predicted at the start of the season has been arguably his best-ever season, but hadn’t shown such world class form before. The 18 goals in 25 outings a season prior, two less than Manchester United and City’s Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tévez still does not convince some.

Another factor is his age: one of the reasons Van Persie decided against renewing his contract is apparent belief that he would not be able to win the UEFA Champions League with the club, or domestic competitions such as the Barclays Premier League, under Arsène’s current regime. The Gunners have not reached the final of the UEFA Champions League since 2006, where they lost 2-1 to the Catalans FC Barcelona after Jens Lehmann was dismissed. Neither have they finished runners-up for the league title since 2005, which came against London rivals Chelsea.

As he turns 30 next August, his last medal was at the 2010 FIFA World Cup where his country, the Netherlands, finished runners-up to Spain after Andrés Iniesta scored a late winner to secure the World Cup for La Furia Roja. For club, it was the 2005 FA Cup final. The influences behind Van Persie’s decision as to why he opted for United remain unclear, however the abovementioned remain, in many people’s minds some of the critical factors as to what drove him to Manchester – in metaphorical sense.

It partners alongside the fact that two of the last five UEFA Champions League finals since 2008, Manchester United have won the competition and finished second-best to FC Barcelona on both occasions, all in spite of the club’s last campaign, being eliminated at the group stage and dropping into the UEFA Europa League, only to be eliminated again, this time by Liga BBVA outfit Athletic Bilbao who would go on to be runners-up in the competition to fellow Spanish side Atlético Madrid.

4.    Tactically – Rooney, Van Persie, Welbeck: who or all three?

Assurances could probably be made now that Sir Alex will not field all three of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie in the same formation to cultivate one of the strongest attacks in the league. Despite being made ascertain that he will make his debút for the Red Devils on Monday against Everton at Goodison Park in Merseyside, Liverpool, only one of the other two options will play either alongside him or with him. Rarely has Fergie deviated from his tried-and-trusted 4-4-2 formation, testing the decades of time that has seen other innovations in football tactically speaking.

Last season Wayne Rooney was deployed behind a spearheading Danny Welbeck and, in combination, found the net 37 times. If Van Persie were to play, it’d perhaps be in the same position as Welbeck, where he has often been the most effective. Although capable on the left wing, as his left foot is his most natural, the position is assumed to be occupied by Luís Nani, the club’s no.17. The right side by the new no.7, Antonio Valencia.

With it, Rooney is deployed as the second striker/attacking midfielder, involving the two to have a centre forward alongside a deep-lying forward.

Or even maybe Rooney and Welbeck will continue their strong performances from last season and play in the tandem they know how. Van Persie could be used in rotation in order to prevent the occurrence of injuries and preserving the chances available for Welbeck to start up front. It isn’t conclusive how the first eleven will line up now that the Scotsman, SAF, is braced with a new big-time player, and with the supposed ‘baggage’ he brings to Manchester, United fans will have their fingers crossed tightly that he’ll be worth every penny.

5.    Can Rooney and Van Persie play together?

It’s the question everyone’s lips in regards to how this latest transfer at United will play out. Statistics from various websites and sources have suggested that both the former Everton youngster and the injury-prone centre forward’s likenesses in playing styles are far too similar. Equally, there has been refuting as to whether or not they can play alongside each other.

It is fair to say that should both play together that the former will have to compensate for the latter’s central position in the attack. Rooney is no provider and has not necessarily atoned the skill set to be as competent one either, however playing from deep and combining with Shinji Kagawa has been the assumption for some.

An alteration in formations such as a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 is advisable as well. Rooney being the centre of the ‘3’ or even the ‘1’ out of the 4-4-1-1. And in being a hard worker on the pitch, it works in the favour of the Croxteth-born man. Many are used to seeing the 26-year-old tracking back for Manchester United, whilst in some cases the opposite for his now soon-to-be team mate. A continuity in such remains a positive feature of a strike partnership that has said be far “too similar” and unable to work as a result.

Worries emerge however that the partnership is far too similar, which therefore means less goals for one or the other – or both. If such should happen, then clearly the tandem can not work.

6.    For all that are concerned

The title chasers Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and perhaps Tottenham Hotspur may have to be on their toes. Sir Alex is often prone to spending large quantities of his budget that sometimes do not work out for the best – some may point out a list of examples – and this could be added to it. Fans of rival clubs will obviously have the intentions of seeing another rivals crumble in the race for the Barclays Premier League trophy, alongside the legs of someone who has been used to such in terms of fitness.

On the contrary it may be a stroke of genius. The other side to the transfer is that Manchester United have acquired a player that has been Arsenal’s top scorer in three of the last four seasons. A proven goal scorer, it, again, was just marginal in seeing the title slip out of the hands of the Red Devils. In fact, it could be said to be seconds. If such proves to be an obstacle, Fergie is probably one of the first to close it before anyone else. Gambles are of the Scotsman’s nature as they have proven to be successful and historic in the past, and another list some many like to point out as well.

Van Persie, Manchester United and everyone else that is concerned are watching a league title on a tight rope. It is likely to fall, but could also be one of the most pivotal events before a ball is even kicked in the new 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season.

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