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“I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations — when you have to make the hard decisions in life,” he said. “What does he want? That boy was screaming for Man United.”

But that boy may be screaming the club’s name in exasperation at present after United’s disastrous campaign that found yet another darkened corner on Sunday, when Fulham snatched a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford to leave United nine points behind Liverpool in the race for fourth place.

Van Persie would no doubt point to the Premier League winners’ medal he secured last season but when he made that controversial decision to leave north London, Sir Alex Ferguson was a significant factor in his thinking.

Rene Meulensteen was also influential, and the fact Van Persie, 30, enjoyed only one season under the pair before Ferguson retired and his fellow Dutchman left to eventually take up a manager’s position at Fulham has complicated what was supposed to be the fulfilment of a career on the periphery of winning trophies.

There were few players cutting a more disbelieving figure than Van Persie as Ferguson addressed the Manchester crowd following their final home game last season, against Swansea.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, Arsenal had gritted their teeth as they formed a guard of honour to welcome Van Persie back to Emirates Stadium. It will be a more hostile reception this time, especially because Van Persie abandoned his original stance of refusing to celebrate against his former club when scoring the only goal in United’s 1-0 back in November.

Scoring machine: Rooney has a great record against ArsenalScoring machine: Rooney has a great record against Arsenal

He endured an endless stream of abuse from away fans that day and will be the subject of considerable mockery tonight, with United trailing the Gunners by 14 points. Yet Arsenal have plenty to prove themselves. Humiliated by Liverpool last weekend and usurped by Chelsea in the title race, the Gunners must show the wheels are not falling off this month, as they have done with near regularity in recent years.

“It is a good opportunity four days later to respond straight away and that is what we want to do,” said Arsene Wenger. “After that I can talk and talk and talk, it is action that will decide things. You would never question the professionalism of this group, maybe they wanted to do so well that they were a bit too cautious, I don’t know.”

United may be a wounded animal under David Moyes but, despite a non-existent title defence, they retain individuals capable of harming any opposition. The Reds may have opted against signing Mesut Ozil when his availability was circulated last August but they ended up signing a player of similar attributes in Juan Mata.


When Jose Mourinho was lauded as astute for selling Mata to United because Chelsea had already played them twice, these were exactly the type of games he was expected to influence. Wayne Rooney has scored 10 times against Arsenal, including one which ended the 49-game unbeaten run of the “Invincibles”, his 100th Premier League goal and, of course, his first ever goal with the winner for Everton in 2002. In the League, Rooney has not scored more goals against any other team.

United have an excellent recent record against Arsenal — 10 wins and just one defeat from their previous 13 meetings — but Moyes has been rewriting those record books for all the wrong reasons this season. He needs a big result to kickstart their charge for the top four.

But it is Van Persie who is likely to be centre stage. He has scored in all three meetings between the sides since joining United. “It just shows that Robin is a great player — we know that,” said Wenger. “Apart from that it doesn’t mean he has to score in this game, it will just be down to how well we defend against him.”

Wenger was coy when asked about the possibility of re-signing Van Persie amid reports a summer move could occur. “I don’t think that’s an ideal subject for now, it is best we don’t talk about it.” The comment was followed by a smile as he said: “That was not a no.”

Perhaps only the little boy knows the answer.