When Manchester United heads to the Emirates for Sunday’s match-up with Arsenal, the Premier League champions will receive a guard of honor from Arsene Wenger’s men.
There had been murmurings that some Arsenal supporters could be inclined to turn their backs in protest when the teams emerge from the tunnel. Wenger, however, insists the club will follow tradition. “When you work somewhere abroad, you have to respect the culture of the country. That is part of the tradition of English football and I want that to be respected,” Wenger said.
While Wenger’s influence on the guard of honor will likely be respected by the Arsenal faithful (after all, United provided the same honor to the Gunners at Old Trafford in 2002), the reception that Robin van Persie will receive is another issue entirely. The Dutchman could be in line for a tough day at the Emirates, where many supporters are still reeling from the striker’s decision to leave the club last summer in favor of a £24m move to Old Trafford.
Although he used standoffish, robotic language when referring to van Persie, Wenger nevertheless urged supporters to respect the former Arsenal man. “We respect Robin van Persie like every other player who has left us and came back to the Emirates,” said Wenger. “I want the player to be respected like everybody else. I always said that for every single player who left, even some of them in much more controversy than Robin van Persie.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, on the other hand, is taking a very Fergie-esque look at the situation. “I don’t bother about it, and I don’t think Robin should bother about it either,” said Ferguson. “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) for that matter.
“But it does happen. You just have to move on.”
When it comes to the actual footballing aspect of Sunday’s game, ‘move on’ is exactly what the Gunners must do if they are to prevail in their quest for a Top 4 finish. With United having already secured the Premier League title, many believe Arsenal has hit the lottery as Ferguson may be inclined to name a reduced lineup. But Wenger insists that “no matter in what state Man United will be, we will need a great performance to beat them and that’s what we want to focus on.”
With 4th place Chelsea one point behind and 5th place Tottenham two points back – both with a game in hand – a victory on Sunday is crucial for Arsenal’s Champions League aspirations.