By James Goldman
MOYES MUST PERSIST WITH VAN PERSIE…FOR NOW
When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Robin van Persie the summer before last he was not only buying a virtual cast-iron guarantee of a 20th league title but, so the theory went, the perfect welcoming present for his replacement to boot.
A Rolls Royce of a striker in the prime years of his career, desperate to fulfil the ambition of the little boy inside him, in peak physical condition, the injuries that plagued his Arsenal career apparently no longer an issue. What more could David Moyes have wanted?
Rather than a gift from the godfather of Old Trafford, Van Persie has instead represented something of a ticking time bomb that Moyes, despite some not-so-subtle provocation, has continued, publically at least, to handle with kid gloves.
Even after Saturday’s curious performance against West Brom, where Van Persie was fortunate to avoid a red card following ludicrous challenges on both Morgan Amalfitano and Stephen Reid, Moyes opted not to chide his player for those acts of recklessness, instead choosing to reveal it was always part of the plan to give the striker a breather and withdraw him from the action early.
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You need only look at the Manchester United careers of two other typically highly opinionated Dutchmen, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy, to ascertain how Moyes’ predecessor would have dealt with such a loose tongued striker, let alone one who has already appeared to blame team-mates for his own dip in form, or disagreeing with the intensity of his manager's training methods.
Ultimately, Van Persie may well be heading for the sort of ignominious Old Trafford exit experienced by his fellow countrymen come the end of the season, especially if he lives up to a track record that suggests he will not be overly concerned by the tide of negative opinion that would flow his way were he to render his position untenable as he did at Arsenal.
But for now he must recognise that the remainder of what appears to be a loveless marriage of convenience with Moyes could still ultimately prove a mutually beneficial one.
Fourth place may well be a distant prospect at present but the table certainly looks rosier than it did a couple of weeks ago following successive Premier League wins and three consecutive clean sheets away from home.
The notorious fragility of north London duo Arsenal and Tottenham, allied to the knowledge that victory at home against Liverpool at the weekend would inflict a damaging psychological blow to a side that is currently sailing in unknown territory, offers the smallest glimmer of opportunity – Moyes would surely accept it is one that his side would only be capable of grasping should he be able to coax a return to top form Van Persie.
The Dutchman should also be aware that were his own season, one that has fallen some way short of the standards he has set himself over the course of the last two campaigns, to fizzle out into nothingness then the queue of clubs willing to take an expensive punt on an injury prone 30-year-old may not be as long as he perhaps assumes.
ONLY A FEAR OF FAILURE CAN STOP ARSENAL ENDING THEIR TROPHY DROUGHT NOW
The FA Cup may well have lost some of its grandeur but the events of this weekend just gone confirm the competition will forever retain its unique appeal.
Victories for Sheffield United and Hull City prompted scenes of unbridled joy, while Wigan’s defeat of Manchester City represented the most astonishing upset since, well since the Latics won the trophy at Wembley nine months ago at the expense of Manuel Pellegrini’s side, then managed by Roberto Mancini.
At the Emirates Stadium 24 hours earlier the overriding emotion was one of relief as a frenetic and thoroughly absorbing cup tie ended with a scoreline that hardly reflected the evenness of Arsenal’s meeting with Everton.
Following Wigan’s heroics the threat of City has been removed and the overriding emotion must surely be one of nervous expectation as one of England’s most famous clubs edges closer to shedding the mother of all monkeys from its back.
While the doom merchants will rightly point out that the other three teams left in the competition are unlikely to be intimidated by Arsenal, the reality of the situation paints Arsene Wenger’s side as justifiable and overwhelming favourites to end their agonising trophy drought.
It would be disrespectful in the extreme to paint Wigan, Hull City or Sheffield United as also-rans, their cup exploits this season alone dictate they should be considered anything but, yet it is an inescapable truth that the biggest barrier between Arsenal and the silver they crave are Arsenal themselves.
Masters of their own downfall in the years between Patrick Vieira’s winning penalty against Manchester United in Cardiff nearly nine years ago and the present day, a fear of failure has been allowed to engender itself in the fabric of the club.
It was that fear of failure that contributed to the farcical concession of the League Cup at the hands of Birmingham in 2011 and which has paralysed Arsenal on every occasion they have seemed destined to deliver on the rich promise and potential Wenger’s most recent sides, for all of their faults, have always carried.
Despite his many wonderful and worthy attributes, the Frenchman has lost the most important habit of them all: winning. Wenger is yet to put pen to paper on a contract extension that has been there to be signed for months – perhaps he needs convincing he is still capable of getting this or any team over the line before prolonging his managerial career?
Were he and his side to squander this most open of invitations to render the term “Arsenal trophy drought” obsolete, then Jose Mourinho’s “specialist in failure” jibe would carry an extra depressing dose of truth. Wenger and Arsenal simply cannot allow that to happen.