Reuters: Robin van Persie attempted to go into the wrong dressing room before kickoff, got booed, got booked, gave the ball away for Arsenal’s goal and scored a penalty as champions Manchester United drew 1-1 at Arsenal on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Dutchman, playing back at the Emirates Stadium for the first time since moving from Arsenal to United in a 24 million pounds deal last August, certainly had a return he will not forget in a hurry. He also looked somewhat awkward as his former team mates gave his United side a guard of honour before the start of the Premier League match.
Although Van Persie, who scored 37 goals for Arsenal in all competitions last season, was roundly booed by the home fans as they cast him as the villain of the piece, Arsenal’s players failed to build on their early superiority in a match that cost them two important points in the race for Champions League places.
Their hopes of a 16th successive season in the competition suffered a setback, though probably not a fatal one, as they slipped back from third to fourth following Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Swansea City earlier which took the West London side on to 65 points with four matches to play.
Arsenal have 64 with three matches to play, two more than their arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur who have 62 but who also have a game in hand on the Gunners.
Unlike the men he left behind, Van Persie knows he will definitely be playing Champions League football next season. He left Arsenal saying he wanted to win trophies and 25 league goals this season – scoring six in the last four successive games after ending a 10-game drought to head the scoring charts – certainly helped him achieve that ambition.
His old manager Arsene Wenger wrote in his program notes that he wanted the Arsenal fans to show “class, and to respect him” on his return, but he was booed in the warm-up, booed at the start and every time he touched the ball as the game progressed. The only time they cheered him was when he gave the ball away in midfield in the second minute, allowing Arsenal to break and score through Theo Walcott to take an early lead.
Wenger told reporters he thought the home fans booing him was a sign of “disappointed love” for the player who spent eight years at the club. He also said that Van Persie, who attempted to go into the home dressing room by mistake when he arrived at the ground, was welcomed back into it by his old team mates afterwards.
“When he was here the fans loved him, so today they showed some disappointed love. I don’t really think he scored – he scored a penalty and that counts but it’s not completely the same,” he joked. “He took his penalty very well and I knew when he decided to take the penalty there was an 80 percent chance he was going to score. When he was here he was our penalty taker, and he does that very well. He does a lot of things very well.
“He is in our dressing room at the moment – because the food in our dressing room is better than in theirs,” Wenger said laughing. “People who play together for five or six years, well they fight, and our defenders did not make life easy for him at all, we played with great commitment.”
Van Persie won the penalty for United when he was fouled by Bacary Sagna and he made no mistake from the spot firing it high and wide to the left of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who earlier had made a brilliant point-blank save from the Dutchman’s header.
The draw, though, not only dented Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four – although Wenger is convinced they will still qualify – it also ended United’s hopes of setting a Premier League points record and beating the 95 points Chelsea established in 2005.
Manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports that he was impressed with the way Arsenal started the game and that his players were not jaded because of their celebrations after winning the title on Monday.
“They played with fantastic pace at the start but the last 20 minutes was end to end stuff and the best chances fell to us and we should have taken them. But we expected a tough game and we got a tough game,” he said. “Arsenal are desperate for Champions League points, but we could have won quite comfortably.”