No mercy from Van Persie against old friends


Tomorrow 12.45pm

IT was a harsh lesson learned by the Arsenal fans who left the Madejski Stadium early during the Gunners’ incredible Capital One Cup comeback against Reading.

But if the scoring at Old Trafford tomorrow lunchtime resembles anything like the pattern it followed when they last visited Manchester United, then Gunners supporters would be forgiven for not hanging around.

Having raced into a 3-0 lead last August, United’s 8-2 victory was absolute torture and the Red Devils go in to this clash as clear favourites after beating Chelsea 3-2 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

We may end up looking back on the most controversial game of the season so far as a landmark result, especially if United can follow that victory up with another this weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are 4/6 with Coral to take the three points and that looks a decent price to me.

Arsenal’s 7-5 victory after extra-time at Reading was nothing short of amazing, but I’m not sure that performance will have much bearing on what to expect here, with Arsene Wenger reverting to his strongest XI.

So far this term, Arsenal have experienced mixed fortunes. For all the positive results, like the 2-0 victory at Anfield, or 6-1 home win over Southampton, there have been disappointing ones, such as the 2-1 reverse against Chelsea at the Emirates and, particularly, the 1-0 loss at Norwich.

The fact they have lost their last four at Old Trafford in all competitions does not bode well for Arsenal. Furthermore, it has been just over six years since they last beat United in Manchester, when striker Emmanuel Adebayor grabbed a late goal in a 1-0 triumph.

Of course, United haven’t been bulletproof this season. They lost 1-0 at Goodison Park on the opening day of the campaign and suffered their first home Premier League defeat to Tottenham at the end of last month. They also lost their second trip to Stamford Bridge in four days on Wednesday in the League Cup, but they have won all of their other 11 matches in all competitions.

Robin van Persie has been on fire since trading London for the North West, with nine goals to his name already in a United shirt, and it would be no surprise to see him come back to haunt his old colleagues. The Dutchman is 7/2 to net first with Coral and a general evens to score anytime.

The 10 goals scored in this fixture last year have skewed the average return from the contest in recent times, but going back to the start of 2007/08 the mean is above three per game and there has been just one goalless draw in the last 17 matches.

Backing United to win 3-1 is a tempting correct score option, at 11/1 with Coral, considering they have managed that result twice in the last nine contests.

And with their nine league games this season seeing a total haul of 37 goals, their matches are averaging just over four a time.

Understandably, after being stung to the tune of £350,000 by a flood of spread buyers during Arsenal’s game at Reading, and getting hit again on Wednesday with the thriller at Stamford Bridge, Sporting Index have quoted a total goals spread of 3.25-3.45. It is a risk buying at that price but it may still be worth doing.

■ Pointers…

Manchester United at 4/6 with Coral
United to win 3-1 at 11/1 with Coral
Buy total goals at 3.45 with Sporting Index