It could well be a depressing, sobering encounter for Arsenal when Manchester United visit this weekend. This Sunday’s clash with the newly crowned Premier League champions has been completely overshadowed by the return of Robin van Persie to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since leaving Arsenal last summer.
As has become traditional, though not a mandatory duty, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger intends to instruct his team to give United a ‘guard of honour’ prior to the match. As a congratulatory gesture, the guard of honour is a rare form of respect in the modern game.
But some Gunners fans have indicated that they will not recognise such a lauding of the division’s best team, primarily because of the influence that van Persie has had on Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s title push.
Some apparently even intend on turning their backs on proceedings while participating in the ‘Poznan’ celebration which was famously adopted by United’s bitter city rivals. If plans such as these come to fruition, it would be hugely pathetic. But is the bitterness of Gunners fans towards the Dutchman justifiable and understandable?
The 29-year-old has scored 24 league goals in his first season at Old Trafford, catapulting them to the summit of the division and the possibility of a record Premier League points total. That in itself is an achievement which should be applauded, and van Persie is undoubtedly among the world’s top strikers at the moment – of which, there are many.
But it’s galling for Arsenal to see van Persie scoring for fun when their own forwards continue to misfire – particularly when he was particularly hasty in leaving the club after arguably his one and only top quality season in north London. Should van Persie have shown more loyalty to Wenger, who stuck by the forward when he spent a large proportion of his earlier years on the treatment table at the Emirates?
In truth, van Persie did more than his fair share for Arsenal. He scored over 100 goals, including 30 in his final season at the club; without those goals, the Gunners wouldn’t have been in the Champions League this season. He won’t be afforded the legendary status the likes of Thierry Henry can enjoy but he certainly contributed.
Alas, abuse is inevitable. As always when a club loses one of its best players, there is anger and indignation among supporters. Van Persie will expect that.
But rather than curse the player, Arsenal fans would do well to point their anger elsewhere. It was Arsene Wenger and the Gunners board who decided to sell their greatest asset to their rivals. Perhaps they should continue to be on the end of a tongue-lashing.
Even more productively, supporters could show more class and channel their emotions into a positive manner by backing their team on Sunday. Amidst the hoopla, a victory over van Persie and his team mates would go some way to helping secure a top-four finish. Achieving that without their former talisman will be far more advantageous than disrespecting the rightful champions.
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