Van the man to shoot down the Gunners at the Emirates

Bill Esdaile
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AFTER Robin van Persie turned his back on Arsenal last summer, some of the club’s fans plan to do the same to their former captain when Manchester United are given a guard of honour on his return to Emirates Stadium on Sunday. But Gunners fans aside, few would blame the Dutchman for joining United given the success he has had this season.

Van Persie has scored 28 goals in a United shirt, including 24 in the Premier League for the new champions, three of which came last time out against Aston Villa.

Unsurprisingly he heads the first goalscorer betting, at 5/1 with Coral, and that could be a worthwhile investment. He netted after just three minutes in the corresponding game at Old Trafford in November and won’t need any motivation to boost his impressive tally here.

But with the carrot of a top four finish dangling before Arsenal, they have everything to play for and go into the contest as the 5/4 favourites. The bookies’ faith is swelled by the fact that the Gunners have secured five wins and a draw in their last half-dozen league games.

In fact, defeat at White Hart Lane at the start of March is the sole loss in 12 as the Gunners have hauled themselves from sixth to third and front runners for a Champions League qualification spot. Let’s not forget, though, the recent head-to-head record in this fixture.

United have beaten Arsenal in each of their last three clashes and seven times in eight giving them a distinct mental advantage. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are also on course for a record breaking season – victory in their last four games will see them better Chelsea’s landmark of 95 points in a Premier League season – and the Scot won’t have his side let up just because they are home and hosed.

At 21/10 with Coral, United are the value in my eyes and I like the 2-1 correct score at 11/1 with the same firm.

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland travel to Villa Park on Monday night bidding to secure a third straight win that would take them to the coveted 40-point mark. The Italian has revolutionised Sunderland in his short time on Wearside just as the club looked destined for the Championship.

The Black Cats have since established a six-point gap from the drop zone and both clubs will have the luxury of knowing how Wigan got on at White Hart Lane by the time kick-off arrives.

Home results are vital in Villa’s survival bid, yet they have won just four times at Villa Park this campaign. Notoriously poor travellers Fulham held them to a point in their previous home game to make it two successive matches without a win in front of their own fans.

Even though Paul Lambert would have written off the Old Trafford outing, losing heavily is never good for morale as the 8-0 drubbing at Chelsea back in November proved. Confidence is vital at this stage of the season and it’s Sunderland who have bags of it.

Christian Benteke is at the heart of everything Villa do well and if his supply is starved they are toothless in attack but back-to-back clean sheets suggest that Sunderland can keep the Villans’ top scorer quiet. Coral’s 12/5 for Di Canio’s men is the bet.

■ Pointers…
Man United at 21/10 with Coral
Man United to win 2-1 at 11/1 with Coral
Van Persie to score first at 5/1 with Coral
Sunderland at 12/5 with Coral