By Greg Stobart at Old Trafford
At Arsenal’s stormy AGM last month, the club’s chairman Peter Hill-Wood claimed that the decision to sell Robin van Persie to Manchester United was down to “football reasons”.
No-one believed the ludicrous claim regarding a player who scored 37 goals for the Gunners in all competitions last season, finishing top scorer in the Premier League and being named double player of the year.
The football reasons for Van Persie’s £24 million departure came from the Dutchman’s frustration with Arsenal’s direction after seven years without a trophy, and his desire to compete for titles.
In his first appearance against his former club, Van Persie took just less than three minutes to respond to incessant taunts from the travelling Arsenal fans by opening the scoring with an accurate right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area.
While the scoreline may suggest a closely fought game, the reality was that this was never a contest, not even before Arsenal were reduced to 10 men in the 69th minute as Jack Wilshere was sent-off for a second booking.
It was men against boys as United coasted to a victory that, temporarily at least, takes them to the top of the Premier League while Arsenal are already nine points behind a team once regarded as their greatest competitors.
Sylvain Wiltord’s title-winning goal and Pizzagate are now distant memories for Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal supporters. This is no longer a titanic battle between two heavyweights of English football, but a run-of-the-mill contest between one team that competes for the title and another that regards fourth place as comparable to winning a trophy.
While the Gunners’ saw plenty of the ball, they lacked creativity and energy in the final third while they were vulnerable defensively conceding their second goal to a header from the shortest man on the pitch in United left-back Patrice Evra.
Arsenal were without a number of players through injury but United cruised to victory against powder-puff opposition. It felt like Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had several gears left in them while Arsenal toiled.
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The grin on Van Persie’s face at full-time was that of a man who is content, thoroughly at peace, with the decision he made in August. The 29-year-old is now fully in his stride, having scored 10 goals in 13 games for United, his last three all with his weaker right foot.
If it was not for wayward finishing - especially Wayne Rooney’s penalty miss - United would have been out of sight by half-time, perhaps even threatening a repeat of the eight goals they scored in the corresponding fixture last season.
Van Persie showed class in refusing to celebrate his goal in front of the Arsenal fans who, for all the abuse, can surely now understand why their former captain was so desperate to leave the Emirates Stadium.
He wanted the chance to win trophies, and Saturday's game proved the huge step up he has taken as the chasm between United and Arsenal continues to widen.
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