Arsenal and Man United have one of the most iconic rivalries in Premier League history, one that has raged on for the entirety of the league’s 26 year life.
Each side have dealt hammer blows to the other over the years; one would win the treble, one would create The Invincibles. With the legendary duo of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger at the helm of each club, this was a rivalry that was more than just on the pitch.
So when Man United signed Arsenal’s star striker Robin van Persie for £24m in 2012, it was nothing short of a knockout blow by Ferguson in his long-running battle with Wenger.
It would turn out to be the Scot’s final season in charge at Old Trafford, and he needed serious firepower up front to wrestle back the Premier League title from Man City. There was no-one better than the Dutchman who had scored 48 goals in his previous two seasons in the Premier League.
Van Persie would go on to score 30 goals in all competitions in his first season at The Theatre of Dreams, as Man United reclaimed the Premier League title.
His next two seasons under new manager Louis van Gaal would be slightly less successful, before he secured a move to Fenerbahçe in 2015, but the damage was already done by then.
Ferguson must have known it was going to be his last season, so he needed someone that would make an immediate impact at the club. The added bonus was robbing one of his rivals of their best player as well. It was the manner in which The Red Devils could treat Arsenal as if they were minnows of the league, helpless to keep hold of their players, which was the most significant aspect of this transfer.
Wenger’s powerlessness in the matter is what resonated with Arsenal fans and anyone in the league, as the club did not have the funds to meet van Persie’s ever increasing wage demands. Man United, and City for that matter, could do that, and they acted accordingly.
It was almost the vestige of Arsenal being able to compete with the biggest clubs in England for their players. It certainly has happened, but it is usually unimaginable to England’s top clubs to see their star players move to their rivals. However, this was an all-too-familiar occurrence for The Gunners, and fans must have been sick of it.
Wenger had already seen Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor leave for City, and the likes of Ashley Cole go to Chelsea a few years before. Arsenal just couldn’t keep hold of their players and van Persie was the final nail in the coffin.
It was also a sign of the north London club’s diminishing ambition. Van Persie saw Manchester as a destination where he could win silverware, and so it proved to be the case. This glaringly exposed Arsenal’s timid ambition compared to their rivals in the most humiliating way for them.
Arsenal have managed to recover from this incident, going on to win the FA Cup three times and signing some very high profile players. But in the titanic battle between Ferguson and Wenger, the Scot had the last laugh.