Manchester United players are expected to receive a guard of honour at the Emirates this weekend after clinching the title with their 3-0 win over Aston Villa earlier this week. Given the bitter rivalry these two teams used to enjoy it is unlikely to be a moment that the Arsenal fans will be relishing. To really rub salt in their wounds, former Arsenal captain, Robin van Persie, will be amongst the players applauded on to the pitch.
Van Persie, who grew up supporting Arsenal, left the club eight months ago in a bid to win some silverware, amidst criticism from the fans that he was leaving the club for financial reasons. He is currently the top scorer in the league and favourite to claim the golden boot for a second year running, having been a vital part of United’s success this season.
There have been some claims from Arsenal fans that ahead of the game they will take part in an “Arsenal Poznan”, copying the goal celebration of Lech Poznan, which was initially pinched by Manchester City, whilst singing their song about winning the Premier League at Old Trafford in 2002. It is unlikely that many Arsenal fans would opt for this approach though, given how embarrassing it would be.
Still, Van Persie isn’t the first player to opt to play for United over Arsenal. Earlier this season Chris Smalling claimed that he had been an Arsenal fan growing up but, despite interest from his boyhood club, he decided to sign for United. Yesterday, a third player revealed that he turned down the opportunity to play at the Emirates and instead join United, as they are “one of the best in the world”.
Wilf Zaha, one of the brightest young talents in England football, agreed a move from Crystal Palace to United back in January, despite Arsene Wenger making it clear he wanted to sign him.
“We are looking at him, but at the moment we have not made any bid for him,” he said during the January transfer window. “I don’t know if Manchester United are in for him. Anyway, if you call any club for any player, they will tell you Man Utd, Milan, Real Madrid are as well in for him, but it is always difficult to know if it is true or not.”
With the season coming to an end, Zaha is excited about joining up with his new team mates at United, but has admitted he always thought he would end up at his boyhood club… Arsenal.
“It was always Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal in terms of where I could be going,” he said. “I have always supported Arsenal. I did not expect United to come in but they did. Arsenal are a good team but United are one of the best in the world.”
This clearly shows a shift in how attractive the clubs are to potential signings. Back in 2008, Aaron Ramsey turned down an offer from Manchester United in preference for Arsenal, despite supporting United all his life.
“I supported Manchester United as a youngster but once I had spoken to Arsene, the way he described the Arsenal set-up and their plans for the future impressed me,” Ramsey said after signing. “I just had a gut instinct that the right move for me would be joining Arsenal. It was my decision. I thought about where the best place would be for me to develop as a player — and that was Arsenal.”
In the five seasons since then Arsenal have won nothing whilst United have won three Premier League titles, two League Cups and the World Club Cup, but Ramsey insists he doesn’t regret his decision.