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Van Persie exit likened to Messi leaving Barca
SUNDERLAND manager Martin O'Neill thinks Robin van Persie's departure from Arsenal is comparable to Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona.
The new-look Gunners' attack struggled to make inroads behind the Black Cats defence at the Emirates on Saturday as Sunderland started the season with a decent draw.
But the Arsenal supporters who turned out to watch their team for the first time following the loss of van Persie to Manchester United would have preferred a winning start.
O'Neill said: “It's a major, major loss for them. He was the fan's favourite here. Before I came up to Sunderland I came to a game at the Emirates in my leisure time and not only was he brilliant but the crowd were right behind him.
“You think you've got everything, you're playing for Arsenal and then you decide that is it. What more can a manager do? You've got an unhappy player here for a year and he plays under duress or do you decide to take the money?
“In an ideal world I'm sure Arsene Wenger would have preferred him to go abroad - out of sight and out of mind - but he decides to go to Manchester United and that's as bad as it gets. “He's brought in some players perhaps hoping to pre-empt it or maybe that they might play with him but you always feel that when the season settles down, Arsenal do have the quality.
“It's a major loss to them, anyone would suffer if they lost a world class player like that. Real Madrid would if they lost Ronaldo; Barcelona would if they lost Messi - he was every bit as important to Arsenal.”
After the final whistle Arsenal had also confirmed midfielder Alex Song's £17m sale to Barcelona, but Wenger did boast new signings Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in his squad.
And O'Neill was more than happy for his own team to largely keep Wenger's latest recruits away from Simon Mignolet's goal.
“I think Arsenal realised they weren't going to get too many attacks from us as we tired,” said O'Neill. “But it's opening day and I'm obviously delighted. In the scheme of things we did nothing really to trouble Arsenal. But as the team starts to gel, they will be able to create.”