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HindustanTimes Sat,02 Aug 2014

Football

Robin van Persie returns to Arsenal first time since leaving
AP
Manchester, April 25, 2013
First Published: 16:38 IST(25/4/2013)
Last Updated: 16:46 IST(25/4/2013)

Fresh from wrapping up a 20th English league title for Manchester United, Robin van Persie will make his first return to Arsenal looking to dent his former club's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Van Persie quit Arsenal last August in frustration at the team's lack of silverware in his eight years in London and has scored a league-high 24 goals in helping United reclaim the Premier League title in his first season at Old Trafford.

Arsenal has sorely missed van Persie's goals this season and is in danger of missing out on the top four as it battles with Chelsea and Tottenham for the remaining two Champions League qualification places.

And it shouldn't expect any easing up from United at Emirates Stadium on Sunday - the new champions remain on course to break the league's point-scoring record of 94, set by Chelsea in 2004-05.

"I think we will get as many points as we can and try to beat our own record of 92 points," said United manager Alex Ferguson, when asked what his aims were after winning the league on Monday.

United needs to win its last four matches to beat Chelsea's record by one point so Ferguson is unlikely to rest many of his big names for a match that for many years has been one of the biggest in English football.

That should mean that Van Persie, who has scored in each of last three games - including a title-clinching hat trick against Aston Villa on Monday, keeps his place against the team that reluctantly sold him.

"We had an expectation of him, his performances last year for Arsenal were sensational," Ferguson said. "We saw him last year and we thought he could gel into the way our team was and he has never disappointed us."

Arsenal is expected to form a guard of honor for United, a custom that has recently been adopted for teams who have just won the title, although it could be painful viewing for the home supporters.

Olivier Giroud, who replaced Van Persie as Arsenal's leading striker, will be missing as he serves the first game of a three-match ban following his red card against Fulham last weekend.

Arsenal is a point ahead of Chelsea and two points clear of Tottenham, having played a game more than both its rivals. With the title secured and two of the bottom three - Queens Park Rangers and Reading - potentially getting relegated as early as this weekend, the top-four fight will grab center stage for the remaining month of the season.

Chelsea is at home to Swansea on Sunday while Tottenham visits Wigan, which is third from bottom and desperate for victory to help maintain its Premier League status.

The return to fitness of Gareth Bale is the thing Tottenham has needed after a recent slump in results, with the Wales winger instrumental in the 3-1 win over second-place Manchester City on Sunday. Securing Champions League football for next season is vital to Spurs' hopes of keeping hold of Bale.

"We knew it was a massive game (against City) and the lads showed what we have in the team - a lot of character," Bale said. "We need to keep that character, team spirit, and togetherness in to the last five games and push for our objectives this season."

City looks to bounce back from its loss at White Hart Lane by beating West Ham at home on Saturday and staying on course to finish second.

At the bottom, Reading hosts QPR, with the loser becoming the first team to be relegated. If fourth-from-bottom Villa beats Sunderland on Monday, both Reading and QPR are certain of going down no matter what their result is on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, it's: Everton vs Fulham; Southampton vs West Bromwich Albion; Stoke vs Norwich and Newcastle vs Liverpool.


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