In the lead-up to the massive showdown at Old Trafford between reigning champions Manchester United and early season pacesetters Arsenal, the usual verbal barbs have been fired by players and staff from both sides.
Earlier in the week, Wayne Rooney questioned Arsenal’s staying power and whether the Premier League’s in-form club would still be there next March. Rooney’s fairly innocuous comment of ‘we’ll have to see where Arsenal are in March’ was predictably met with a forceful retort from Arsenal’s free-scoring midfielder Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman noted that since January, Arsenal have picked up the most points in the Premier League. Whilst this is true and there’s no denying that Arsenal are the team to beat right now, Arsenal were miles off the pace in the title hunt by January and the pressure was off. Wenger’s men did admirably to overhaul Tottenham and qualify for the Champions League but were by no means a team chasing the league title and the points statistic doesn’t hold as much relevance as Ramsey may think.
The standout and somewhat bizarre comment of the week come from Arsene Wenger, however. Before, during and after last seasons’ meetings between the two clubs, the headlines were dominated by Robin Van Persie. The league’s premier frontman made the stunning switch from the Emirates to Old Trafford in the summer much to the anger of Gooners and, of course, the delight of the United faithful. This season, Van Persie has somewhat slipped under the radar in the build-up to this game. Until now that is.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Wenger said: “It will be strange to see him in a United shirt because for me he is an Arsenal man.
“I took him as a very, very young player and we came together through very difficult periods. He became a world-class player and for me he is an Arsenal player.”
Excuse me Arsene, but he’s a United player. Sorry about that.
There’s no doubt that Arsenal will still have a place in Van Persie’s heart as no-one would spend nine years at a team and suddenly forget about them but his commitment to the United cause cannot be questioned. Last season, the Dutchman was in scintillating form and was arguably the difference between United and City. This season, there’s been niggling injuries and reports of discontent with David Moyes’ training methods yet he still has nine goals in twelve games. Not a bad return for a man supposedly disenchanted with life at the club.
Wenger believes that Rene Meuelensteen was the deciding factor in Van Persie’s move. For sure, having a compatriot at the club he was moving to will have been an attractive proposition but United are a club steeped in incredible history, have an undoubted trophy winning pedigree and the greatest manager in the history of football, Sir Alex Ferguson was at the helm. Van Persie was 29 when he made the move and could potentially have ended a stellar goalscoring career with very little in the way of trophies to show for it. These were most probably the reasons which convinced the little boy inside that United was the club for him.
Wenger’s comments may have added a slightly more interesting narrative to Sunday’s game but Van Persie is in his second season at United now, scoring goals and definitely has his eyes set on more silverware. There’s no two ways about it, Van Persie is very much a Manchester United player.