Arsenal accepts the pain of applauding Van Persie
LONDON (AP) — Applauding former teammate Robin van Persie will be a painful moment for Arsenal’s players when they welcome Premier League champion Manchester United to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
It has become tradition in England for opponents to give the new champions a guard of honor before kick-off but venerating Van Persie, who left Arsenal to join Manchester United last year, will be a particularly uncomfortable experience for the Gunners.
Van Persie, whose 24 goals have been instrumental in United’s title triumph, spent eight seasons at Arsenal before quitting the club.
Despite some supporters’ objections, however, manager Arsene Wenger said there was never a possibility of Arsenal refusing to follow tradition on Sunday.
“When you work somewhere abroad, you have to respect the culture of the country,” Wenger said. “That is part of the tradition of English football and I want that to be respected.
“We respect Robin van Persie like every other player who has left us and come back to the Emirates. I want the player to be respected like everybody else.”
Arsenal cannot afford to concede ground in the race for the Champions League qualification spots but it should not expect any favors from United, who can break the league’s record points total of 94 if it wins all four of its remaining games.
“We’ve won the league but we won’t go there and relax,” United midfielder Michael Carrick said. “We want to put on a good performance and try to play as if the title depended on it, that’s how we’ll approach it.”
Arsenal is a point ahead of Chelsea and two points clear of Tottenham but has played a game more than both in the chase for the top four places.
Tottenham plays first of the three teams this weekend and can put pressure on their rivals by moving into third with a win over relegation-struggler Wigan on Saturday.
Wigan has lost two consecutive games but Tottenham will be on guard because its opponent, which plays Manchester City in the final of the FA Cup, is known for recording surprise victories late in the season.
“We have to be ready,” Tottenham captain Michael Dawson said. “Wigan are fighting for their lives but they are a good team, they are in the final of the FA Cup and they will want to pick up points just as much as we do, for different reasons.
“It’s about us though, about what we do and as long as we’re on top of our game, we’ll look to come away with the three points.”
In what could turn out to be a top four decider, Tottenham still has to play Chelsea. But the Blues first play Swansea at home as they look to bounce back from conceding a late equalizer against Liverpool last weekend.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez is likely to rotate his side for the match, playing only three days after beating FC Basel 2-1 in the semifinals of the Europa League.
The game will also see Chelsea winger Eden Hazard face the club he was sent off against for kicking a ball boy during the League Cup semifinals in February.
Manchester City has little to play for in the league after its 3-1 loss to Tottenham allowed United to wrap up the title, but City can cement its position in second place by beating West Ham at home on Saturday.
Everton’s hopes of finishing in the top four look to be over but the team will be eager to maintain its lead above rival Liverpool by beating Fulham at home. Liverpool travel to Newcastle.
At the bottom of the table, Reading and QPR know the loser of their match will be the first team to go down. Both teams will be relegated if Aston Villa beats Sunderland on Monday.
Stoke play Norwich after both recorded victories last weekend to ease their relegation concerns and a win for either in their match would all but guarantee Premier League status for another year.
Southampton can extend its unbeaten run to seven matches against West Bromwich Albion at home.