Robin Van Persie returns to the Emirates Stadium to take on his former employers.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson says he has no concerns about the prospect of Robin van Persie facing abuse from fans of his former club Arsenal when the teams clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Van Persie left Arsenal in an acrimonious £24 million ($37 million, 28 million euros) transfer last year and has been a revelation in his first season at Old Trafford.
His hat-trick at home to Aston Villa on Monday took his tally for the campaign to 24 league goals and secured the title for United, which Arsenal have pledged to acknowledge by forming a guard of honour for the visiting team.
The sight of Van Persie being applauded on to the pitch as a league champion by his former team-mates is liable to provoke strong feelings among the Arsenal support, but Ferguson believes the Dutchman will not be fazed.
“I don’t bother about it, and I don’t think Robin should bother about it either,” said the United manager.
“There was a bit of booing when he played (against Arsenal) at Old Trafford, and I expect a portion of fans will do that. That is the modern generation, I am afraid.
“For Arsenal to have one of their players go to their biggest rivals of the last 20 years doesn’t sit well with their fans, nor Arsene (Wenger, the Arsenal manager) for that matter.
“But it does happen. You just have to move on. Arsenal have moved on now. They are challenging for a Champions League place and have every chance of getting one.”
Ferguson has urged United to go on and break the Premier League points record of 96 by winning their four remaining games, but Sunday’s showdown will be of far greater significance to the fight for Champions League qualification.
Arsenal, in third, fourth-place Chelsea, and fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur are currently separated by just two points, but Wenger’s side are at a disadvantage as they have played a game more than both of their rivals.
However, their form is excellent, with six wins in their last seven matches, and Wenger believes his side’s performances prove that Van Persie has not been unduly missed.
“What you want to focus on is that when the big players go, you just want to get around it and try to find a new organisation that is efficient,” he said
“You always miss a big player. The only thing I can say is it took us a while to get around it, but if you look at the number of goals we’ve scored, it’s similar to last season (1.91 goals per game compared to 1.95).
“It took us a while to find a different way because the game went through him (Van Persie) a lot. We had to find a new balance between defending and attacking, but now we are stabilised.”
Wenger finds himself with another striker-shaped hole to fill ahead of Sunday’s game, as Olivier Giroud is suspended after he lost an appeal against the red card he received in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Fulham.
In the Frenchman’s absence, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will compete for the right to spearhead the home side’s attack.
United have no fresh injury concerns, although midfielders Paul Scholes and Ashley Young remain unavailable.
Ferguson has dismissed suggestions he might elect to field a weakened side and says he will select his strongest available team out of “duty” to Arsenal’s rivals in the battle for a top-four finish.
United have enjoyed a superb record against Arsenal in recent seasons, winning nine and losing just one of their last 11 encounters in all competitions.
Venue Emirates Stadium, Sunday 4pm
Last season Arsenal 1 Man Utd 2
Referee Phil Dowd
This season’s matches 22 Y63, R4, 3.05 cards per game
Subs from Mannone, Martínez, Gnabry, Jenkinson, Monreal, Yennaris, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Squillaci, Miquel, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Gervinho
Injured Fabianski (rib, May), Diaby (knee, Nov)
Suspended Giroud (first of three)
Form guide WDWWWW
Disciplinary record Y38 R5
Leading scorer Cazorla 12
Subs from Lindegaard, Johnstone, Büttner, Hernández, Welbeck, Anderson, Giggs, Powell, Smalling, Evans, Nani
Injured Scholes (knee, 4 May), Young (ankle, Aug), Fletcher (illness, Aug)
Form guide WDWLWW
Disciplinary record Y49 R0
Leading scorer Van Persie 24
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have lost just one of their last 11 meetings in all competitions with the Gunners.
This will be the 49th meeting in all competitions between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Ferguson leads by 22 wins to 15.
The clubs have met 216 times in all competitions. Manchester United have won 91 times, Arsenal 79 and there have been 46 draws.
Arsenal have had five players sent off this season – two more than any other side. Olivier Giroud now has as many red cards (one) as away goals in the Premier League.
The Gunners have lost just one of their last 12 Premier League games, winning nine.
Since the beginning of February, Arsenal have conceded only six goals in 10 Premier League games, keeping five clean sheets during this run. They conceded eight goals in January alone.
United have their highest points-per-game average (2.47) and their highest win rate (79%) of any season since the Premier League began in 1992.
They have come from a losing position to win nine times this season – four more than any other side.
The Red Devils have hit the woodwork 22 times in the league this season – the most in the top flight.
United conceded 28 goals in their first 19 league games of the season, but just seven in their last 15.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have had a league-high 19 different scorers this season.
Since 1 January 2011, Robin van Persie has scored 72 goals in 89 Premier League appearances. He is only the fourth United player to score 23 or more league goals in a season, after Ronaldo, Rooney (twice) & van Nistelrooy (twice).
Wayne Rooney has scored or created 22 goals in 25 Premier League appearances this season.
Ryan Giggs has now won the English league title on 13 occasions, as many times as Arsenal have in total.