Arsène Wenger is beginning to see benefits in the sale of Robin van Persie, even if the Arsenal manager rues the fact that there was little option but to accept Manchester United's bid of £24m for the 2012 Footballer of the Year. Van Persie will still be missed by Arsenal but the loss of so dominant a presence is making others assume responsibility.
Although Wenger is not so fatuous as to pretend it is an advantage to be without the attacker, the adjustments that had to be made are absorbing. The reliance on the Dutchman had its disadvantages. "When Van Persie was injured," said the manager, "it was not only that we could not score goals any more; there are psychological consequences in the team. The players ask you if Van Persie will be playing on Saturday when he had two or three days out."
Arsenal no longer pin their expectations on a single striker. "We had no choice after one [player] had scored so many," Wenger said, "We bought Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. That's 40." The manager was combining the sort of contribution each made last season at Bayern Munich and Montpellier respectively.
"We always hope that [Theo] Walcott improves his number of goals," Wenger said. "There's Gervinho as well. And with [Santi] Cazorla we'll get a few. Cazorla gets into good positions at the moment and doesn't always finish but it looks like he could score goals." The Spaniard and Giroud have each found the net just once so far but Cazorla's goal was the clincher in Arsenal's 2-0 win at Liverpool.
Wenger, though, still had concerns before Saturday's game at West Ham. Players such as Francis Coquelin, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Walcott have been unwell.
"The virus is floating around in our dressing room," said the manager, who believes that the normal rituals at kick-off are particularly ill-advised when some of his men are under the weather. "Don't shake hands," he laughed. "That's good before games. They shake hands so the virus will go round the Premier League. We have tried to stop [the risk of illness] in the dressing room. We have improved the level of hygiene. It's funny but shaking hands is the biggest thing to spread viruses. I shake hands with everybody but we are advised not to do it when there is a high level of risk. A few have got it but it is not certain that they got it here [at the training ground]. They might go to the same takeaway."
Wenger will be relieved if Mertesacker is available at Upton Park, since he feels that the defender came back sharper and fitter for this season.
Arsenal anticipate danger. The manager does not stereotype West Ham as a long-ball side just because Sam Allardyce is manager and Andy Carroll is available as target man.
"They have a good mixture," Wenger said. "They are dangerous on the set pieces [but] Matt Jarvis is a technical player." Arsenal will still hope that a refashioned attack can pin back Allardyce's side.