By Simon Legg
The long drawn out Robin van Persie saga appears to have finally come to an end, but why now and why to a direct rival?
Just two days out from the beginning of the 2012-13 English Premier League season, Arsenal appear to have pulled the trigger on a deal reportedly worth around £24 million.
We learned a few months ago that van Persie had informed Arsenal that he was unwilling to sign an extension beyond this season, and it was then reported last week he had held talks with Arsene Wenger and told his boss that he wanted to join Manchester United immediately.
Van Persie is coming off his best season - period. In all competitions last campaign, he scored 37 goals in 48 appearances and dished off 15 assists.
He single-handedly led Arsenal to a surprise third position at season's end, a decent result considering the way they began the season and that at one point they sat in 17th.
The striker turned 29 on August 6 and in is his prime, so why sell him now to a direct rival for a reduced sum?
He is still contracted for another season, so Arsenal could have played hard ball to get a better deal or even convinced him to stay by gradually building a better squad around him.
The latter is, of course, less likely.
Arsene Wenger has apparently put all his faith in new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, while handing their superstar captain over to one of their main rivals.
This will not be a popular decision among Arsenal fans for two reasons.
|GUNNER, GUNNER, GONE
Firstly, van Persie is at the peak of his powers and is the talismanic captain.
This sale will be more negative for the club than the recent departures of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, as there is no natural successor to lead the club.
It does not bode well for Wenger who confidently put his faith in Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie to commit to the club just two years ago.
Secondly, this sale can only be described as a bargain buy, especially when you consider that Andy Carroll left Newcastle to join Liverpool for £35 million, having scored just 14 Premier League goals prior to his sale.
Not only was the transfer fee significantly less than that of Carroll's, but the Gunners also had an opportunity to potentially send van Persie out of their own back yard to the likes of Juventus.
Arsenal had previously held all the cards in this deal because van Persie was still contracted, and could have effectively transferred the Dutchman to any club that made an offer as they did not have to honour his demands to move to United.
Either the club genuinely believes that they have the squad to still challenge for titles, or they have decided that planning for the future is the best option and signing off on the United offer was the easiest thing to do in order to appease all parties.
Anyone and everyone with an opinion on football will be posing the tough questions over the next couple of weeks.
Just how ambitious is Arsenal football club? How successful is their self-sustaining model? And what if they do not qualify for the Champions League next season?
All of those questions will be answered at some point, but for now Arsene Wenger faces his biggest challenge at Arsenal - to make them relevant again.