Gunners' forward frailties exposed by Manchester United's 'Arsenal man'

Robin van Persie showed his former club just what their title push is missing with his goal at Old Trafford

The old Stretford End song asks, in an ironic and more industrial fashion: "Who are Man United?" The way a certain Dutchman continues to mark this fixture by sticking it to his old club calls for an alternative that questions who the hell Robin van Persie might be.

Twenty-seven minutes were all the former Arsenal hero required to make it 1-0 to United – for what proved to be the winner – and three goals in the three occasions he has faced the Gunners since making the £24m move from north London to the north-west.

Van Persie scored the first in last season's corresponding game, a 2-1 win, before netting the penalty in the reverse fixture at the Emirates that secured a 1-1 draw for his team.

Through all of this, students of Arsène Wenger ponder why the Arsenal manager sanctioned the transfer in August 2012. On Friday, in explanation, the Frenchman said: "I think in the end I had to decide, 'Do I do it or not?' knowing I will get huge criticism for doing it. But I just decided because at the end of the day I felt it was the best thing to do."

For who? As Van Persie went on to be crowned a Premier League champion for the first time and the star turn in United's 20th triumph, Arsenal puffed and panted to a Champions League berth, as had become their recent custom.

Yet the true folly of Wenger's decision was seen as Arsenal motored into Old Trafford as leaders, eight points ahead of United. In their push to claim a first title since 2004 what value a Van Persie for his erstwhile manager, who looks for options beyond the still-maturing Olivier Giroud and sees only Nicklas Bendtner?

Van Persie had entered this contest on the back of an epitaph that cast Wenger as a kind of scorned lover. On Friday, Wenger also said: "Of course it's strange because he is an Arsenal man. We have gone together through very difficult periods and he became a world-class player and for me he is an Arsenal player."

Absent was any mention of the trophyless years endured following Van Persie's substitute appearance in the 2005 FA Cup-winning side who defeated United in a penalty shootout that Arsenal were fortunate to reach. After seven barren years the itch became a sore for a striker who was 29 and had just returned a career-best 37 goals in a season for Arsenal as he signed on for United.

Van Persie had his name sung here by the congregation as the players wandered out, and was booed when he took the opening corner before the Arsenal section.

His goal came through smart work from his partner up front, Wayne Rooney, who placed a corner on Van Persie's head, the finish leaving Wojciech Szczesny no chance.

Of his forward axis, David Moyes said: "The two forwards, their performances merited the title of big players. Great players score great goals in big games and he [Van Persie] is a great player. His sidekick today played great as well, the two of them were fantastic, Wayne made it, Robin scored it."

With his goal, his seventh in nine league outings, Van Persie provided a perfect response to his former acolytes who had begun the afternoon with a taunt of "Eight points clear, Robin, eight points clear".

Not any more. As Van Persie departed the scene five minutes before time, for Maraoune Fellaini, he was given a standing ovation while being heckled by the travelling support. But the bottom line is that United now stand only five points behind Arsenal.

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