A few weeks ago I would have seriously recommended to Arsene Wenger - if I had somehow come across the opportunity to gain his ear - that he give consideration to putting mercurial forward Robin van Persie up for sale at the end of the current season. Far too prone to injury, I would have said. Incapable of providing much more than half a season of productive performances, he would have heard. And far too given to wasting the straightforward opportunities that ought to be the bread and butter for any self-respecting target man, I would have forced him to accept, while admitting myself that he remains tremendously technically gifted. The combination of his age - at 27 he can be termed experienced, yet still has five years ahead of him - and his undoubted, uncommon flair ought to result in a healthy list of willing takers and a tidy sum to be invested in the next round of youngsters.
Hindsight is a great luxury, and as a faithful lover of the beautiful game I am more than happy to admit that my judgment was somewhat premature. The Dutch forward seems newly focused on his craft and far more determined to add the end product to Arsenal's dreamy passing football, as evidenced by his return of five goals in two Premier League appearances. The fully fit van Persie on show in Saturday's easy victory over Wigan augmented the style of his more junior colleagues with steel, brushing off the setback of a woeful penalty (which failed to extend the outstanding Oman shotstopper in the besieged Wigan goal, Ali Al Habsi) by completing his hat-trick in the closing minutes of the game. The van Persie of previous seasons, or indeed the summer's World Cup, would have struggled to atone for his error in this most fitting manner.
Van Persie's decisive return to form, though welcome for his manager, teammates and Gunners fans, does however strengthen the case for the departure of the Dutch star's far more misfiring colleague, Danish international Nicklas Bendtner. At 23, Bendtner forms part of the generation carefully nurtured over the last five or so years by Wenger, but one would be hard pressed to identify another member of this group who makes less of a contribution to its success and reputation. Bendtner's mediocre goal return and often poor attitude, along with an almost incomprehensibly high opinion of his own abilities, marks him out as the black sheep of the flock. I venture that it is time for Wenger to usher him through the Emirates exit door, although the price tag of £15million quoted in a recent article on skysports.com seems terribly over-inflated.
Bendtner and van Persie have very little in common, apart from their propensity to fluff a concerning number of relatively easy chances. The Dutchman does at least have an impressive collection of technically masterful strikes with which to distract his detractors from this shortcoming. More importantly, he fits rather better into Wenger's current system than the one dimensional Bendtner; as a second striker, he is more in tune with the fluid, flowing midfielders Fabregas and Nasri, the architects of the majority of Arsenal's best work in recent weeks. The return of Marouane Chamakh after a short break will also allow Arsenal to concoct a potentially devastating front three, comprising the efficient Moroccan with the creative van Persie and the lightning bolt that is Theo Walcott. Once completed by Fabregas, Nasri and Song/Wilshere, Wenger could effectively forget about his eternally underwhelming defence, as few teams would back themselves to out-create and out-score such a front six.
As a Red Devil first and a football writer second, I cannot see Arsenal overhauling United this season, though second is certainly within reach, as is an end to the endlessly-referenced trophy drought. The sale of Bendtner, in either the current transfer window or that of this summer, will create a space in the squad for a fresh and exciting young talent (for what other sort of player do Arsenal seek out these days), and the resultant funds would, one hopes, be spent rather than hoarded or frittered away on central defenders. Feyernoord's Luc Castaignos or Anderlecht's Romelu Lukaku, regularly linked with a switch to the Emirates, would fit the bill and might, just might, help to secure the long-awaited major trophy that, on paper at least, is long overdue an appearance in the red half of North London.