Van Persie makes his point against former club Arsenal
Spot kick leaves Arsenal holding on to Champions League spot
Manchester United’s Robin van Persie scores his side’s equaliser from the penalty spot against his former side Arsenal at The Emirates. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1: Robin van Persie has scored 25 league goals now in his first season with Manchester United, or 29 in all competitions, but the latest of them threatens to have considerably more impact on his old club than his current one.
If Arsenal are to miss out on Champions League next season – something that has not happened once in the last 15 years – they will look back with some anguish on that moment when Van Persie had the ball in his hands and the fans who used to revere him probably knew what was coming.
There was considerable pressure on Van Persie for that penalty, back in front of the crowd where he is now reviled, acutely aware of the schadenfreude that would follow if he lost his nerve. The volume had gone up several notches as Arsenal’s supporters did their best to put him off.
Yet Van Persie is not the kind of man who is distracted easily. His shot was struck with power and precision and, though there was a strategic lack of celebration, he will have cherished that moment.
His contribution leaves Arsenal in the fourth Champions League qualifying space but with everything still to play for bearing in mind Tottenham Hotspur are two points behind with a game in hand.
Arsene Wenger’s team were considerably the better team in the opening stages. Yet their inability to build upon Theo Walcott’s goal made this ultimately a frustrating afternoon for their supporters and a missed opportunity because it was rare to see United look as dishevelled as they had in the opening 40 minutes, so slow to the ball and generally giving the impression of a side that had officially lapsed into end-of-season mode.
Martin Keown, Arsenal’s guest of honour, summed it up when he was invited on the pitch at half-time to offer his thoughts. United, he said, looked like they had been doing a lot of celebrating.
Arsenal had been that much quicker to the ball in this period, playing with width and fluidity and pinning back their opponents for long enough spells to feel, justifiably, they really ought to have made more of their superiority. They lacked a bit of presence in attack, with Olivier Giroud suspended, but their desire to attack in numbers, from all different angles, made them a constant threat.
United, in contrast, did not really get going until the second half. Before then, it was as poor as they have been played in a long time. Rafael and Phil Jones, in quick succession, passed the ball out of touch under no pressure. David de Gea dropped a corner and made a hash of a clearance, the kind of mistakes that he has eradicated from his game over the last few months.
Wayne Rooney was barely to be seen, Van Persie was peripheral, Antonio Valencia barely involved. Alex Ferguson erupted at one stage after Phil Dowd waved on play despite Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey both checking Nani’s run. It was a bad decision by an erratic referee but it was tempting to wonder whether Ferguson’s real ire stemmed from the way his team had set out.
Yet it is probably a measure of the way this Arsenal side can defend sometimes that, even then, United could reflect on some decent opportunities of their own before Van Persie’s equaliser.
Jones, driving through midfield in a manner reminiscent of a young Bryan Robson, headed two good chances wide with considerably less distinction. Then a moment when the Emirates held its breath, as Nani clipped a wonderful cross into the penalty area and Van Persie was alone inside the six-yard area. Wojciech Szczesny’s sprawling save to keep out the header, from point-blank range, was exceptional.
Dowd had a mixed afternoon was lenient in the extreme not to show Bacary Sagna a second yellow for clattering into Patrice Evra just before the hour. The referee did, however, get it spot for the penalty. Van Persie had run through the left-hand channel, latching on to Sagna’s mistake, and the full back’s desperation to make amends culminated in a diving challenge that missed the ball and took his opponent’s ankle. Van Persie, under considerable pressure, kept his composure to beat Szczesny with the penalty, scoring to the goalkeeper’s left.
For Van Persie, that goal might have had therapeutic qualities, too. It had been his loose pass that set Arsenal on the way to the first goal, Kieran Gibbs breaking forward from left back and the ball eventually reaching Walcott, via Tomas Rosicky’s perfectly weighted pass inside Patrice Evra. to angle his shot past De Gea.