Manchester United fans could hardly believe their luck when it was announced that Robin van Persie would be joining the club for £24 million.
While the rivalry between United and Arsenal wasn’t as intense as it had been in the past, there was no denying it hurt those in north London when Van Persie revealed he made the decision to leave because the little boy inside him “was screaming for Man United”.
Arsenal had been left in a difficult position after allowing their captain and best player to run down his contract to the final year. The club knew they would lose him for nothing the following summer so succumbed to the pressure to sell.
Sir Alex Ferguson made a few phone calls to his old adversary, Arsene Wenger, and Arsenal did business with United, after Van Persie rejected the opportunity to sign for Manchester City.
Five and a half years later, a similar story is starting to unfold. Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s top goal scorer from last season, is set to sign for United.
Like Van Persie, he was left with just a year left on his deal in the summer.
It appeared as though he was all set to sign for City but the move collapsed on transfer deadline day. They knew they could come back for him in January, when he would be worth half of the £60 million they had offered for him, or be patient and sign him for free the following summer.
However, United threw a spanner in the works and Arsenal fans have been left with their heads in their hands again.
Desperate City and Arsenal supporters have criticised United for offering the player a massive contract, but when you’re able to sign someone of Sanchez’s quality, especially in the current market, for just £30 million, that frees up more money to pay him. City were prepared to pay double the transfer fee a few months ago, which is equivalent of £200,000-a-week wages for over three years.
It’s also worth remembering that United spend the smallest percentage of their total turnover on salaries than any club in the league. 45% of their total earnings pays the wages, compared to 56% at City, 61% at Chelsea and 69% at Liverpool.
When Wenger was asked about the sum Sanchez would reportedly earn, the Arsenal manager defended United.
“I wouldn’t like to come out on the numbers because that’s Man United’s problem,” he said. “I respect Man United because they generate the money they pay to the players with their own resources so you have to respect that.”
As well as generating their own huge income without relying on a rich owner like their rivals, United still manage to make room in the first team for their academy graduates too, something that neither City nor Chelsea do in the Premier League.
If United want to pay a player a lot of money, having saved a huge amount in the transfer fee and from having a squad which contains players they spent nothing on, then that’s their prerogative.
It may get worse yet for Arsenal supporters too. They might see Mesut Ozil make the same journey to Old Trafford on a free transfer in the summer.
They’ve seen Danny Welbeck move in the opposite direction, which was supposed to soften the blow, but he’s only scored 13 league goals in three and a half seasons there.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been rumoured to sign for Arsenal as part of the Sanchez deal, yet he’s hardly set the world alight since he joined United.
After Van Persie, they vowed it would never happen again. The pay off from the huge investment in the Emirates Stadium was supposed to stop things like this happening. But yet again Arsenal find themselves selling their best players to their rivals and wondering how it came to this.