Robin van Persie Scores on Return to Arsenal as Man United Held to 1-1 Draw
Instead of celebrating the newly crowned champions, we naturally wondered whether Van Persie would receive a cold welcome at his former club. Instead of relishing Arsenal's place in a thrilling top-four race, we wondered whether Van Persie would celebrate when he inevitably put the ball in their net.
As for the first part, he did. As for the second, he didn't. And as for the game, it was a tense affair that meant little for the champions and potentially more for Arsenal than just this season's top-four challenge.
With Van Persie in the squad on this day, United weathered a spirited Arsenal challenge to claim a point at the Emirates. But while the teams were just about even on Sunday, over the course of the season, United have been 21 points better.
Measuring Van Persie's precise contribution to that gap is difficult, but his impressive return of goals—which now stands at 25 after scoring again against his former team—has been nothing short of influential, perhaps even decisive in the title race.
That race was not Arsenal's this season, and Van Persie's return so shortly after winning the title with his new teammates will, for that reason, hurt more sharply. Instead, Arsenal remain locked in battle with Chelsea and Spurs for the Premier League's final two UEFA Champions League places.
Though Arsenal would have benefited greatly from a victory, a draw against the champions—coming as it did in an emotional reunion with their former talisman—is not a poor result.
With the point, Arsenal slipped to fourth place behind Chelsea but remained ahead of Tottenham. Spurs have a two-point deficit and a game in hand, but Arsenal have three winnable games remaining and must still fancy their chances.
Much like the action on the pitch, the pre-match intrigue surrounded Van Persie. Top scorer in the Premier League last season with 30 goals for Arsenal, the Dutch striker transferred to Manchester United over the summer for a reported £24 million.
With United clinching the title with Monday's win over Aston Villa, Arsenal's players lined up the guard of honor as United emerged from the tunnel and walked onto the pitch. Van Persie, who reportedly almost entered the wrong dressing room ahead of kickoff (per Daily Mail), brought up the rear and, as expected, received boos from his former supporters.
After the home fans voiced their frustration, Arsenal released theirs in a rousing start. Theo Walcott—who replays later showed was marginally offside—opened the scoring within two minutes, finishing from Tomas Rosicky's final pass in the midfield.
Arsenal hardly could have asked for a better start, not least of all because it was Van Persie who gave away possession to set up the chance. It was a cathartic moment for Gooners, and considering Walcott's potential to serve as a face of the post-RvP era, it also generated hope.
The best revenge, as they say in the real world, is living well. Translated to playing football, Arsenal's start qualified.
That's the way to do it. Arsenal form a guard of honour for #MUFC ... and then take a second-minute lead. Walcott from Rosicky pass— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) April 28, 2013
The problem for Arsenal this season, as it has been consistently in the recent past, was that it didn't last. Brilliant at times, Arsenal lacked the final, vital ingredient to turn their advantage into victory.
United fought back into the match, with Van Persie setting up Phil Jones for a free header from eight yards in the 18th minute. Jones headed wide, but the response showed in plain-to-see terms why United are the league's most dangerous team when trailing.
Van Persie was booked in the 28th minute and had a chance 11 minutes later when his point-blank header was saved by Wojciech Szczesny. But Arsenal remained the sharper side overall until conceding softly just before halftime.
Full-back Bacary Sagna gave away possession in his own half and compounded his error by fouling Van Persie in the box. Referee Phil Dowd whistled for a penalty, which RvP converted easily.
It was a double serving of harsh injustice as far as the home fans were concerned, but Van Persie showed class by declining to celebrate.
Both teams created chances in the second half, setting up a tense finale as Arsenal went in search of three points for their top-four challenge. Those points never came, but with Van Persie's return to North London came a chance for the club to move on.
The business of a top-four finish remains critical, but regardless of how the season ends, Arsenal's future will go on without their former Dutch master. And as their stronger moments on Sunday showed, it doesn't have to be an entirely bleak prospect.
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