Robin van Persie has refused to commit his future to Arsenal and raised further fears that he could follow the example of Cesc Fábergas and Samir Nasi by forcing the club to sell him rather than let his contract run down.
The Dutch striker, who scored two goals for Arsenal on Saturday to underline his value, would not be short of offers from Europe's top clubs and said: "I still have almost two years left, so for the moment that's fine. I'm happy with my contract. I can't look into the future. I can't see us talking now because we are so busy."
Manchester City, who bought Nasri and Gaël Clichy from the Gunners this summer, are thought to be one of the clubs interested in the 28-year-old Arsenal captain. "Maybe we will leave it until the end of next season," Van Persie said.
Van Persie's immediate task is to become more talisman than totem. For all his skill and goals the Dutchman has tended to personify the brittleness that has dogged Arsenal in recent seasons. He has been a symbol of their frustrated potential rather than a trigger for trophy-gathering. Arsène Wenger hopes that entrusting him with the captain's armband, following Fábregas's move to Barcelona, will galvanise player and club.
"It's true that we had a meeting during the summer," Wenger said. "It is understandable that he would want that when you lose players such as Fábregas and Nasri. I don't think we will lose him."
Critics argue that Van Persie is not a natural leader, that he is too quiet and individualistic to inspire those around him and, therefore, that awarding him the armband is merely a sop to his ego and counterproductive to the team. Wenger suggests this is bilge and says the Dutchman is no longer the "emotionally impulsive" 21‑year‑old whom he signed for £2.75m from Feyenoord in 2004.
"He has leadership on the pitch," Wenger said, "because technically he is super‑talented so he gains the respect of the others for that, and then the second part that he has added is that he speaks his mind in the dressing room. And people listen to him."
Van Persie may still not be the most vocal of captains on the pitch but there is no doubt he can express himself in goals. Last season he had the best goals‑per‑minute ratio of any player in the Premier League. But for his fitness troubles he would surely have scored 100 goals for Arsenal long before Saturday, when he reached that milestone thanks to a well‑taken brace against Bolton Wanderers, which was topped off with an 89th‑minute goal that gave Arsenal a conclusive win and some relief from the negativity that has surrounded the club.
The fact that Van Persie has struck a century of goals despite not playing as an orthodox centre-forward shows that he has the same intelligence as the last two players to reach that tally for Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Wenger sees another comparison. "He is like Lionel Messi in the positional sense," he said. "He doesn't play like a real centre-forward but if you look at his movement he is very intelligent. because of his diagonal runs. And his first touch is so good that in tight spaces he can make a difference, also because he has a very short back-lift for a big guy."
Theo Walcott also wants to play centre-forward and it is perhaps because he is not quite so flexible in tight spaces that he has yet to do so regularly. Moreover, his finishing skills are still not honed enough, though they are improving. Against Bolton he and Gervinho squandered one-on-one chances but both were useful as suppliers, especially Walcott who created Van Persie's second with a splendid run and cross from the right.
Walcott hobbled off in the dying minutes, after suffering a "sharp pain in the knee" and Wenger admitted that he feared the winger was set for another long spell on the sidelines, which would have been a damaging blow to the club two days after learning that Jack Wilshere must undergo surgery on an ankle injury that was initially considered relatively innocuous and so will be ruled out for months. Arsenal now say, however, that his injury is only "minor" and he could return for the Champions League match against Olympiakos.
Bolton's manager, Owen Coyle, would welcome similar glad tidings. Illness left him without two of his best players, Gary Cahill and Stuart Holden, and he then lost the striker David Ngog to concussion early in the first half. Their chances of avoiding a fifth successive league defeat never looked good after that. Coyle was unhappy that bad defending aggravated those blows but said his side would soon clamber off the bottom of the table.
"I'll always accept being beaten by a better team but, if you contribute to your own downfall, that's a horrible feeling," he said. "I've stressed that to the players and we accept that we've got to do better but we must also balance that by saying that so far this seasonwe've played four of the teams who I expect to be in the top six and next week we've got another one with Chelsea.
But we'll keep working hard and the wins are around the corner."
Ergotelis 2 Olympiakos 3 Olympiakos head to the Emirates on Wednesday having made it two wins from two in Greece's Super League