Think the unthinkable, that you are all thinking and who could replace RVP?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog suggesting a line that I thought the Wenger/RVP contract talks might take. In short I suggested Wenger would ask Robin to extend based on the understanding that he would get him the best deal, strengthen the squad and complete for silverware in 2013. I also proposed that this deal would be on a gentlemen’s understanding that if we failed to win Robin would be sold next summer with no barriers. Some readers agreed but many thought me too positive and idealistic. That is usually my way, but today I intend to present the flip side and play devil’s advocate to some degree.

 Decision time Robin

Don’t get me wrong I hope he stays, but I did ask for feedback on twitter and just about the majority are not keen on us letting him run his contract down and keeping him as skipper. Yes some hope if we do this and then win a trophy next season he will re-sign but history suggests that is hugely unlikely. Someone (@andysternAFC ) pointed out how Drogba has performed in the last year of a contract, but there is a significant difference between a 29 year old and a 34 year old, with less sell on value. The majority hope and pray he signs but if he will not accept the improved contract feel as I do that we should cash in and sell, although ONLY to a club outside of England.

Now of course this is all ‘What If’ but the next and obvious question is who would replace him because Podolski, a fine addition was signed to play alongside a main striker or to play as he does for Germany on the left?  This is the other area of main feedback I received, mostly of the negative variety suggested that, based on recent experience  Wenger would not replace Robin with a player of similar quality, so we would go backwards or at the very least stand still. Others insisted that as van Persie is amongst the best how could Arsenal possibly replace him short of signing Messi or Ronaldo?

It is on the last few points that I am keen to explore a few avenues many of which are for my money, or more crucially Arsenal’s money not as farfetched as you might think. If you won’t hear a word against our skipper or actually believe his is the third best striker in world football and is irreplaceable please don’t read on and leave your head firmly in the lovely sand.

So here are a few facts to begin with. Arsenal are unlikely to pay over £130k a week for a world star as we know that is what we have offered RVP and allegedly have offered Hazard!  The Arsenal fans will not accept another summer of uncertainty and for a top star to be replaced with an inferior player, or perceived inferior player. We all believe in our young strikers Afobe, Ryo and particular Joel Campbell, but we would still need to replace one of the games top strikers with another such player. Many feel that for what we are willing to fork out in wages Wenger could not find such a player and would again look to a younger model to mould or a cut price deal. However we did offer a serious amount of money for Gotze last summer and if we are to believe the press would be prepared to do so now for Hazard, so a key change in policy is strongly suggested. So if this is the case and Arsenal are no willing compete on price, if not necessarily on wages and RVP does decline the clubs offer are there players out there at the same level and who make the same if not more impact in the final third than our skipper? Many hearts will say NO but fact and evidence says YES.

Below is a table of the 20 most effective and efficient attacking players in Europe in 2011/12, courtesy of This looks at both a combination of goal and assists in relations not to the season as a whole, but to actual minutes on the pitch. In short, how many minutes between the player making a telling contribution by either scoring or making a goal. Now stats may not tell the whole story but if you are going to invest in a player to replace RVP you want to be sure you can count on a similar contribution or even better.

Player Team Mins Played Goals Assists Average per min
L Messi Barcelona 3267 50 19 47.35
G Higuain Real Madrid 1709 22 10 53.41
C Ronaldo Real Madrid 3353 46 11 58.82
John Guidetti Feyenoord 1821 20 6 70.04
Fab Miccoli Palermo 1868 13 13 71.85
Bas Dost Heerenveen 2969 32 9 72.41
K Benzema Real Madrid 2252 21 9 75.07
Ibrahimovic AC Milan 2721 28 8 75.58
K J Huntelaar Schalke 04 2804 29 8 75.78
D Mertens PSV 2820 21 16 76.22
R van Persie Arsenal 3244 30 12 77.24
F Ribery Bayern Mun 2385 12 18 79.50
S Aguero Man City 2598 23 9 81.19
Burak Yilmaz Trabzonspor 2919 33 2 83.40
Eden Hazard Lille 3211 20 18 84.50
Mario Gomez Bayern Mun 2480 26 3 85.52
Luuk de Jong FC Twente 2915 25 9 85.74
Al Keita Metz 11 1555 18 0 86.39
W Rooney Man United 2838 27 5 88.69
C Benteke Genk 2141 18 8 89.21

For me not only does this make fascinating reading but it highlights a few surprising facts and some exciting possibilities:

So no surprise that the most effective attacking player in Europe in league football is Lionel Messi, but a surprise that Ronaldo is not 1 or 2, and most of you I guess will be surprised, as I was that Robin van Persie does not even make the top 10. It is gratifying for me and other writers on this site such as @Frimponged, that between us this season we have suggested and written on Dost, Guidetti, Mertens and De Jong as possible for Arsenal. The key here is to understand not the totals but the totals in relation to the timeframe. In essence RVP has had an incredible season, and we all agree on that but he has had so much more time of the pitch than perhaps other players of equal or even greater ability in stronger squads.

Let me expand and focus in on a few players from this table. We all agree that we would not accept the sale of RVP unless we had a guarantee of a player of similar stature to step in. Most of you feel this is impossible but I would argue the clear evidence suggest the contrary. There appear to be several possible who have influence matches on a more regular basis than Robin this past season.

The second most effective and potent striker in Europe according to his goals and assists per minute ratio is Gonzalo Higuain who has been unable to command a regular starting place at real Madrid due to the preferred selection of Ronaldo and Benzema by Mourinho. His scoring ratio is better than a goal every other game both for club, 91 in 162 and for Argentina 13 in 25. He is only 24 and has his best years ahead of him and is most certainly at the same level as our skipper. Add to this is wages would be about at our level I suspect and he was born in France , as his father was playing for Brest and is fluent in the language, which is always a bonus coming to the Emirates traditionally. I am certain the arrival of Higuain would appease most Gooners should RVP decide to leave. The table illustrated that Higuian had either made or scored a goal every 53 minutes in La Liga this past season. Quite incredible! Time may be against us as the player has indicated he wants a move and Juventus and PSG, both of whom we should blow away are linked.

  Second most potent threat in Europe

Equally his team mate at Real, Karim Benzema, has been long admired by Wenger and he also has proved more effective in the final third than even our own RVP. Benzema has also out performed our skipper given his lesser minutes on the field of play, scoring or assisting every 75 minutes compared to van Persie’s 77 minutes. It would be fair to say that most Gunners have wanted Arsenal to sign this particular individual for years and the thought of Benzema just off Podolski in a 4411 is mouth watering.

  Back into No.10?

Of course none of us, and certainly none of the board at Arsenal would want to sell RVP, if that is the route chosen, to any English team and if as we believe Madrid want him a part exchange for either of these prolific stars should be entirely possible, with the other advantage of excluding Barcelona and anyone else unsavoury from the deal.

Also in the table we have the young Swede Guidetti, who is a Man city player that has ripped up the Eredivisie on loan. We can however exclude him for two reasons. Firstly he is still developing and if we are to trade RVP it must be for a player of equal talent now and secondly we will not do business with Citeh.

Also from Holland we have the tall phenomenon that is Bas Dost. On the move I am sure and perhaps to the EPL but he needs flying wingers and I am not sure it is our game. There is also Huntelaar who does have a buy-out clause, but is happy at Schalke but the one younger player I would consider is Luuk de Jong. Austin Ellinor (@Frimponged) watches this player every week and is convinced his is the heir apparent to RVP both for Holland and perhaps for Arsenal. You can read his piece on de Jong here:

  Watch for Luuk of the bench at Euros and feel the force!

So there we have it. Do I want Robin van Persie, our leader, our talisman and and player we have developed so well to leave us? No I do not and I sincerely hope he signs the new deal the club have offered. However if he chooses not to extend his stay do I wish him to play out the last year and leave on a free? My answer to that is also NO. Is this a disaster? No it is not if we are prepared to more swiftly and do business. I do not know for certain that Real Madrid are a club that are interested in RVP nor do I know if he is interested in them. If I were a betting man however I would not hesitate in placing money on both being the case. You know where I am going and by now you will have formed an opinion, but for this observer if he does not sign and a cash neutral or even slightly in our favour deal that bought one of Benzema of Higuain would for my money (betting again!) improve us. Both are 5 years younger than our skipper and both would command significant sell on value down the road.

My point at the end of all this is, that there are strikers out there better or as good as Robin and others such as Luuk de Jong who look as if there could be in very short order, so keep your chins up guys. Now that we have demonstrated that potentially we ARE prepared to pay the big transfer for established stars whichever way it goes this summer we are in a strong bargaining position and if push come to shuff would you swap one of the world’s top strikers of 29 for another of the world’s best who was 24? I think we all would but maybe I am wrong as I often am!

ps For those wondering Olivier Giroud is outside the top 20 and has influenced Montpelier games with a goal/assist every 97 mins (Shabby!)

Until next time thanks for reading

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  1. Great blog Dave.

    I agree that RVP can be replaced but I think I said on Twitter yesterday that I’d be okay with us selling RVP if we signed Benzema. I think it is fair to only consider players from leagues that are as strong as ours or similar in style so for me that is Germany or Spain so from your list (Ronaldo & Messi aside) I would only really consider Higuain, Benzema and Huntelaar.

  2. Great Blog!! I like the deep work done, unlike the others just speculating and talking of negatives instead of the positive. I feel if we sell, we should look at other options, and I believe that they are there, in fact, very many.

    @ Daniel, When RVP came to Arsenal, he had been bought from Feynoord. Its the Dutch League, and he has done very well (this season more than any other). If we can get someone from other places other than Spain (consider the money to be paid for these players), as long as they can learn to do the job, I’m fine with it. GTID!!!

    1. Yes RVP did come from the Dutch league but he took 6+ years to become as prolific as he has been. I like Eredivisie but I think with the way the EPL has developed over the past 8-10 years that if we are going to replace a prolific striker we need to do it with a striker that can be prolific in a league that is as strong.

      Park and Gervinho were considered prolific in France…. need I say more?

  3. Fascinating, every true gooner should read this article and understand what goes on behind the scenes when the transfer window opens as i have truly been educated! I wouldn’t want RVP to leave the club but if it come to that we as gooners should wish him well as he has done for us more than we could ask of him.And we should understand his desire to move if it comes to that(the desire to win trophies).

  4. Great blog mate. As a fan of #Afc i want RVP to stay but if He make up his mind to leave so be it. Wenger should replace him with Benzema or Lewardonski.

  5. Loved the blog, very well written. But if you’re arguing based purely on one statistic (such as minute per goal/assist), you have to include the fact that the PL is the toughest in the world. La Liga is basically a two team league, and obviously the eredivisie is weak too. Really not possible to compare RvP’s numbers and the others IMO.
    After messi, ronaldo, higuain, there is a marked rise in the minute per goal/assist ratio. all three play in la liga.
    Maybe you should have a multiplication factor associated with the “toughness” of the league? PL 0.1, La liga 0.3, Bundesliga 0.3, Ligue 1 0.4, etc?

  6. You just aired some points that have been going on in my brain since the Rvp brohaha. Most of us wanted another striker desperately last season bcos we all saw Rvp as injury prone. He suprised us by staying fit all season for the very 1st time, a luxury we cannot afford always. It will be unnecessary keeping him if his eyes are already somewhere else. U can never get the best from any player whose mind is somewhere else. There4 the idea of keeping him against his wish should be out of the way. We need a natural finisher and for the potential young players in our fold,Huntelaar will do for us. He’s scored everywhere he has been and he is now at the right age where consistency is expected.

  7. @King_G_O – insitinctively I’ say I’d be comfortable with Higuain or Benzema coming in shoudl we sell, and agree he should either sign now or leave. However, the table should not be looked at too closely. Mins per contribution to a goal is all well and goo but how does it take into account who you play for and who you play against (which obviously has a massive bearing).

  8. I have to agree with Daniel on this (surprise surprise Daniel ;-)).

    I really want RvP to sign-up to another contract and stay with Arsenal for years to come, but I’m not prepared for him to see out his contract and leave on a free next year. I don’t understand these people who suggest it’s better value for us to let him do that than sell him.

    On that basis if he doesn’t sign (and this is where I agree with Daniel), I would only be interested in a proven talent from an equal league (Spain or Germany), and on that basis it would have to be Higuain, Benzema or Huntelaar. I would love either of those first two and would accept the Dutchman.

    The concern I have is that with all the fannying about over RvP’s contract, if we don’t get it sorted quickly our options with Higuain and Benzema will run out (Madrid won’t be interested in selling either of them or they’ll have gone elsewhere).

    1. I do actually think that in the right circumstances we would be better off keeping RVP then selling.

      I think unless we sell for £40m we have to keep him. Anything less and we’d be making a “loss”.

      I’d rather he went abroad if he had to go and would be fine with a swap of Higuain or Benzema + cash.

      If he can only be sold to City I would want £10m plus Dzeko, Johnson and Richards.

      Neither of those situations are likely to happen but they would be acceptable to me.

      1. How would we make a ‘loss’ if we sold him for less than £40m?

        The only suggestions on this argument I’ve seen are that we’re more likely to qualify for CL next year with him than without him, which is a complete load of rubbish – why wouldn’t we be able to qualify with Giroud / Benzema / Higuain up front?

        If we sell him for £25m and clear his £80k p/w salary where’s the loss? Surely that gives us money to reinvest in one of the above mentioned alternatives? Otherwise we keep him, pay him £4m in wages over the next year and let him go for free?

        Obviously I’d like to stop this rot of selling our best players every off-season, but that’s a whole other argument. As is the prospect of making a player who doesn’t want to stay play out his contract.

      2. I believe it would cost us at least £40m to replace him.

        I believe that we should only be looking at players from leagues just as strong so Germany or Spain which leaves us with Benzema, Higuain and Huntelaar.

        Replacing from France or Holland is slightly risky. Remember Afonso Alves? Top scorer in Holland. Gervinho and Chamakh, both decent scorers in Ligue 1.

        It is my personal belief that only one of the aforementioned players can truly be a replacement and we’d be lucky to get one for £20m + 4 year contract of at least £130k a week, plus agents fees plus bonuses plus signing on fee etc. We would also need to bed that player in. No player is guaranteed to adapt to our league so unless we buy from England then we are taking a risk on a player needing time to adapt and that adaptation costing us a CL spot. There are no players in England that we can afford or would want to join us that can offer us what RVP offers us. He is much more than just a goalscorer.

        We won’t get £25m for him. He has a poor injury record and he is almost 29.

        Even if we did and saved his £4m wages that is only £29m. We would not get a direct replacement for £29m and anything less is doing exactly what we’ve done for years and that is buying potential. We have enough potential. We either keep him or we sell at a price that allows us to buy a direct replacement.

      3. Well that’s flawed straight of the bat. I don’t think that either Higuain or Benzema would cost £40m and Huntelaar certainly wouldn’t. I’d accept the Real players might cost £30m and about £18m for JKH.

        Given that we’d likely get £20m minimum for RvP according to latest reports, then we’d be looking at matching the types of wages we’re offering to RvP (£130k p/w), and potentially having to invest an additional £10m for a world class player 5 years younger. Let’s not worry about signing on fees (although can’t imagine we’d pay £5m to a new player for signing on as is reported what we’d be offering RvP to stay).

        If we showed that kind of ruthlessness and intent I’d be a happy Gooner. And I wouldn’t think if you buy a player of that stature that it would take a year for them to bed in. If they did I certainly wouldn’t hold it against Wenger or AFC.

  9. Lets hope RVP will sign for long term with us, so we can focus on improving other departments. He is, a good captain, fine striker but above all, the ambassador of Arsenal FC and fans in terms of attracting class players as well as commercial purpose. Lets not forget that we haven’t replaced cesc yet. RVP can play as an attacking midfielder as well which he often does for Dutch national team with huntelaar played alone up front. BUT What if he decides to leave? Well then again no player is bigger than a club and should not be. If wenger can find one or two proper replacement then it might work in equal or even better with DEMPSEY roaming behind a target man lets say GIROUD. Podolski on left and walcott on right wings, gervinho/OX being the impact substitutes. Wilshere, song, arteta and M’VILLA can fill two of the remaining midfield positions giving us depth in the bench and covering the injuries.
    So if RVP is not to commit long term future, then his sale might be enough to buy dempsey and giroud, meaning arsenal have to offload the squad players such as chamakh, squillaci, arshavin, vela, bendtner, park ,[diaby?] and get much waited M’VLLA.

  10. Great article again Dave. Getting us thinking. I think we shd run down his contract. 80k pw vs 130k. Save on a 5m signing bonus. Will to keep other plyr salaries lower. So we’re not losing him on a free in that sense. That’s 8+ million and better chance of CL qualification. That’s all $ in the bank.
    On the playing side, from my last blog, I think we need to minimize squad turnover this yr and RVP is key to that. Himself and as a signal to rest of the squad.
    So in.summary, resign him or run down his contract. We need to move forward this yr with minimal disruption. Stability and progress.

  11. Having told RVP to keep quiet, has I hope given AW time to find a replacement for him. If, as you suggest Benzema or Huntelaar etc, I would be very happy. I do not want RVP to go to Man City, so a cash + player would be an ideal situation. Alas this is all speculation. I’m sure Aw has all the info he requires, because he loves stats, so I hear.Lastly, I would prefer RVP did not run down his contract, but if we have to then so be it.

  12. Loved the blog. Fantastic stuff and for the football purists. At the end of the season the first thing that came out of my mouth was sell him abroad for big bucks to finance a deal for some younger proven quality. This blog of yours further cements this theory. So here are my thoughts on other things Arsenal.

    The squad, coaching staff and Mr Wenger all have the wrong ethos. Steve Bould is not going to make a difference unless he went to the school of coaching run by Marcelo Bielsa, Jorge Sampaoli, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. The work ethic is not there with Arsenal. We need to employ a system like the aforementioned managers use. When their teams do not have the ball, they do not wait in the vain hope that the two holding midfielders or the defence will win the ball back. e.g. watch Chile in the last world cup! Arsene keeps talking about attacking triangles but he seems to know nothing about defensive triangles or how to play when you do not have the ball. It’s not good enough in modern football to have one person chase the ball down. If you watch Barcelona, Atheltico Bilbao, Borussia Dortmund or Universidad de Chile play football, they close the ball in triangles when they do not have possession.

    The nearest player to the ball (i.e. striker, midfielder or defender), closes the ball. The nearest player to his left looks to close the space for the pass to the left and the nearest player to the right closes the space to the right. A 3 pronged defensive unit, running and harrying in unison. In essence the attacking player should be harried into making a mistake and either plays a loose pass to the left or right of him that should be picked up by the opposing closing players to the left/right or he losses the ball to the on rushing player who is closing the ball or he is forced to pass the ball back. This should happen at all times depending on the position of play at that moment in time. There will be times where the striker, winger and midfielder are closing the ball in the opposition half and there will be times where a midfielder and two defenders are closing the ball. The trick is to do it as a unit. And not just defensive minded players, but the whole team! It would seem that we have too many players who think this is above them or are just plain lazy! That is why Rooney is such a great player for United and he alone has carried United since Ronaldo left. And that is why we won’t start to win anything until this mind set has changed throughout the club. It’s not just about pretty football. You have to have the work ethic to succeed.

    On to whom we should buy, as this is important if we want to compete with Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea in the up and coming season. We will get on to the subject of who should get rid of in a moment. If you look at any good team they have a spine through the team. Chelsea have it with Cech, Terry, Lampard and the soon to depart Drogba. Man City have it with Hart, Kompany, Silva and Aguero. Barcelona have it with Valdes, Pique, Iniesta and Messi.

    I believe we already have the keeper in Szczesny. So to add to this spine I would bring in the following: (defence) Montpellier’s – Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, (Midfield) Borussia Dortmund – Shinji Kagawa and (attack) Montpellier’s – Olivier Giroud. The transfer of these three players is all the business we need to do this summer to improve on the squad that we have. With these 3 additions we can compete and maybe achieve the dream goal of the champion’s league. We also have the budget for these three players so we should do whatever it takes to prize them away from the likes of Tottenham or Manchester Utd and ensure they sign for Arsenal. I guarantee these players are absolute quality and will bring us glory!

    Right who we need to let go. Marouane Chamakh, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Carlos Vela, Johan Djourou. We should also sell Robin Van Persie for big money now, while we can get it. Abroad! Enough said!

    We also need to turn the Emirates into a fortress like Highbury use to be. Too many corporate supporters and no passion. There is no way in hell that a opposing teams fan should out sing us when we have a 60,000 seat stadium. Sing up Arsenal, Arsenal sing up.

  13. Great article as always Dave. Losing RvP would be detrimental to us not only because he’s one of the best strikers but also due to his leadership off the field. He’s one player who held this team together especially during our bad times & that is something money can’t buy. I really hope he stays and if the worst happens we should get Benzema, I hear he’s got Arsenal DNA.

  14. Nice post. I love RVP, and I want him to stay. He is a top player, unselfish team player with a game changing points rescuring moment of magic. We shouldn’t go beyond 140k to keep him so as not to disrupt the club’s wages policy. Sell him to a club abroad if he really want to go, get Giroud, Huntelaar, Higuain or Dost. Get Mvilla & Vort too. With ryo, jack, Pod, coming back nxt season we shud have a formidable team.

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