Manchester United survived a tough start to emerge with 2-1 victory at Arsenal on Saturday and one of the most impressive results since Louis van Gaal took charge at Old Trafford. Yet one player who failed to earn plaudits, after a makeshift defense held firm and Wayne Rooney secured the three points, was the man returning to his former club, Robin van Persie. Having played a key role in United lifting the Premier League title in his first season following his arrival from Arsenal, the striker’s declining performances have led many to speculate that he could be set for a transfer away from United.
Van Persie had just 14 touches and zero shots before being replaced by youngster James Wilson at the Emirates Stadium -- the kind of statistics that have become all-too common in recent times for the Netherlands international. Van Persie scored 22 goals by the end of January of his first season at Old Trafford, but has scored only 25 more in the 22 months since then, with niggling injuries and a lack of sharpness in his play taking over.
The London Evening Standard reported last week that it is now a foregone conclusion that the 31-year-old will be the subject of a transfer next summer. In part that’s because Van Persie stands to earn a £10 million loyalty bonus if he sees out the fourth and final year of his contract. Given his age and injury history, United would be unlikely to receive a large fee for Van Persie’s services, but it still may prove preferable to losing him on a free while also shelling out for his bonus.
Van Persie’s exit is not the only potential shake up to Manchester United’s forward line looking ahead to next season. Radamel Falcao returned to training on Sunday after a month’s absence, but the striker has endured a frustrating time with fitness since arriving on a lucrative loan deal from Monaco in August. United have yet to decide whether to sign Falcao on a permanent basis, and Van Gaal admitted that a serious knee injury the Colombian suffered in January was part of the reason they only agreed an initial loan deal.
“I hope so. That is clear, I think,” he told reporters of his optimism that Falcao would still come good. “Do you think we expected he'd be injured for so many weeks? Because of that [injury] maybe we didn't buy him. “I don't give any chance to players when they are not fit, believe me. Look at my record and you will see that. You have to be fit. And what's your name? It doesn't matter -- you have to be fit. I'm sorry. I have to manage with the other players and we believe in these players. And we shall show it.”
Falcao will have to impress considerably to convince Manchester United to pay the €55 million (£44 million) price agreed with Monaco. According to the Manchester Evening News, among other sources, United are keen on Edinson Cavani and Thomas Müller to bolster their forward line for next season. Both were linked with moves to Old Trafford in the summer and, of the two, a deal for Cavani will surely be easier to pull off.
Cavani has previously hinted at his frustration at having to play out wide at Paris Saint-Germain due to the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, with the Uruguayan’s lethal form having diminished since his time in Napoli, United may think twice before paying the substantial fee PSG will likely demand.
Müller, meanwhile, is a key performer for German champions and European powerhouse Bayern Munich. And the Germany international forward has previously stressed that a new contract signed to keep him at Bayern until 2019 meant that rejecting United’s interest this summer was straightforward.
“I know there was interest, but Man Utd were interested in a lot of players this summer,” he told The Guardian in September. “It never really got anywhere because I had just renewed my contract [until 2019], and Bayern were clear that they saw my future here. The decision for me was an easy one.”