Robin van Persie spot on in Arsenal return

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Robin van Persie penalty Arsenal United goalPA PhotosRobin van Persie lashed home from the penalty spot to make it 1-1 at Arsenal

In the end, Robin van Persie comfortably survived this trial-by-Emirates; and, in other news, Manchester United drew 1-1 with Arsenal. But back to the main event. The away fans provocatively chanted their star striker's name before kickoff, and the guard of honour was tensely observed; some generous applause, some booing, and the resounding roar of "Arsenal, Arsenal" rising high over both.

Come kickoff, it was the home side who began with more vigour, and it was in fact a misplaced van Persie pass that ultimately led to Theo Walcott's opening goal. The Dutchman's errant cross-field ball was seized upon, and from the resultant break Walcott was played in to thrash the ball underneath David De Gea from close range.

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For much of the first half, Arsenal, driven forward by the exuberance of Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, dominated proceedings. The midfield duo moved the ball smartly right and left, let down only by the lack of sharpness of some of their less aware colleagues. The chief culprits here were Aaron Ramsey, whose precision of distribution did not match his enthusiasm, and Bacary Sagna, whose hesitancy to cross was matched only by his inaccuracy when he finally delivered it.

Elsewhere, van Persie was having quite the half. Following that early concession, he then found himself booked for a late challenge on Per Mertesacker that brought irate thousands to their feet, and also found time for the most gleefully greeted of offsides. He supplied Phil Jones with one of two headers from 8 yards out, both of which he put inexcusably wide, and then saw a point-blank header cannon back off the face of Wojciech Szczesny.

This, of course, was mere precursor to the theatre that would occur at the very end of the first half. Sagna, by now the game's least distinguished performer, brought van Persie down in the area and the Dutchman wandered over to the spot. Whilst his thoughts could only be guessed at, those of most of the home crowd were not in doubt. The howl as he placed the ball down was bracing in its hostility, stoked further by Szczesny's decision to stand a few feet from van Persie as he readied himself.

The result? Van Persie slapped the penalty high and hard, up into the top-right corner, and just like that made a crypt of the Emirates. The silence may have been more resentful than respectful, but when the teams emerged for the second half, it was a different, more pleasant game.

Manchester United stopped accumulating yellow cards like they were souvenirs of their day trip to the capital, and there was a greater evenness to possession, with half-chances coming at either end. Most surprising, though Arsene Wenger must have his reasons, was the replacement of the outstanding Rosicky by Jack Wilshere, when it seemed more sensible for Ramsey to make way.

United, inspired by an awakened Wayne Rooney, were impressive on the break, the England forward swiveling to release Ryan Giggs with an exceptional pass, from which the winger's curling strike was deflected wide. At the other end, Rio Ferdinand tidied up calmly and with the odd flamboyant flourish, with one or two touches that will surely shortly find themselves onto highlight film.

After much ado, then, honours ended even. As the final whistle went, van Persie and his fellow champions were mixed with the same mixture of applause and boos. As the home crowd continued to revel in their own satisfactory performance, though, there was a sense that they, like van Persie, were slowly and painfully moving on.

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