City favourites as Gunners open auction for Van Persie
Arsenal won't be able to compete with top clubs until Financial Fair Play is enforced, writes Jeremy Wilson
After the shock and anger that was caused on Wednesday by Robin van Persie's announcement that he wants to leave Arsenal, a sense of inevitability is settling over the Emirates.
Discussions are understood to have been held directly between Arsene Wenger and Van Persie over the last 72 hours but, unlike when Alex Ferguson somehow talked Wayne Rooney back from a similar situation two seasons ago, there is no sense of any rapprochement.
Arsenal say they are confident Van Persie will honour a contract which expires next summer, but they will also now listen to offers for their captain. Indeed, the most significant part of Arsenal's official statement was the promise to plan with the club's "best interests in mind".
In practice what that means is that there will be no cheap deal. It leaves open the possibility of another drawn-out summer saga involving their captain and the problem of how to deal with their looming pre-season tour to Asia. Van Persie, Wenger and the rest of the squad are due to touch down in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. Having received £24m for a lesser, albeit younger, player in Samir Nasri last summer, Arsenal value Van Persie at beyond £20m.
That stance would clearly make Manchester City favourites over Manchester United, who are also interested, although the possibility of a move to Italy cannot be dismissed. Unless one of the two big Spanish clubs become actively involved, Juventus is the most realistic European destination. The Serie A champions are willing to break their wage structure for Van Persie and would get close to the £200,000-a-week that would be on offer at Manchester City. Whether they would also pay a transfer fee in excess of £20m is more doubtful. That reality still makes City the favourites.
Indeed, by not rushing in last week and instead focussing on deals to reduce their wage bill -- Wayne Bridge has joined Brighton and Emmanuel Adebayor's prospective move to Tottenham is progressing -- the Premier League champions have already shown considerable self-confidence.
As for Arsenal, Van Persie's explosive statement has also been the catalyst for more fundamental questioning of the club's strategy, with the cracks further widening this week between majority owner Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov, the second largest shareholder.
Usmanov sent a scathing five-page open letter to the board in which he blamed their policies for Van Persie's disillusionment and also last year's departures of Cesc Fabregas and Nasri.
He landed some well-aimed blows, largely on previous shareholders, including David Dein, Peter Hill-Wood, Lady Bracewell-Smith and the late Danny Fiszman, for profiting so handsomely from their own stakes in the club at a time when Arsenal have been trying to keep up with the spending of Chelsea and City.
A rights issue to pay off stadium debt was again suggested, although it was also notable that Usmanov's statement did not suggest spending beyond the principle of self-sufficiency.
Hill-Wood has already noted the bank penalty charges they would incur for the early repayment of a stadium loan that now only costs the club around £14m a year to service.
Arsenal, then, cannot see how Usmanov's suggestion would be the 'game-changing' shift in strategy to allow Wenger to compete financially with City, Real Madrid or Chelsea.
It is also clear that Usmanov's outburst has lessened rather than increased the chance of Kroenke meeting him, let alone involving him. With Financial Fair Play supposedly coming into force and the chance for a whole range of new commercial deals in 2014, Arsenal remain adamant that their policies will ultimately deliver.
There was also frustration that the attacks from Van Persie and Usmanov should come so early during a transfer window in which they have actually been quite active. "Lukas Podolski has 100 caps for Germany, and Olivier Giroud was the top scorer in France," said one source. "We have great young players coming through and we improved to finish third last year. What money we have is available to spend. We are doing everything we can to succeed."
The underlying problem, of course, is the chasm that exists between the expectations around Arsenal (expectations that Wenger largely created) and the reality of the wider landscape in which he now operates. Wenger admitted last year that it had been the most testing summer of his career and he said that he could write a book on what had happened behind the scenes. He was not, however, expecting such a messy sequel so soon.
Sunday Indo Sport