ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has urged fans not to vent their anger at Robin van Persie when they face him in tomorrow’s Premier League visit to Manchester United.
Van Persie was accused of treachery when he refused to sign a new contract and demanded a transfer over the summer, paving the way for the former captain’s acrimonious £24m switch to United.
“I hope the reception for him is a respectful one because he played for us for eight years and did very well for us. You want him to be respected,” said Wenger. “We campaign against discrimination – it was still the case last week so why should it not be the case this week? I don’t know [how fans will respond], I think he’ll get the reception I hope for.”
Van Persie has begun life at Old Trafford in the same rich vein of form that brought him 37 goals in his final season at Emirates Stadium, with nine in 12 helping lift United to second place in the table.
Arsenal’s top scorer this term has been Theo Walcott, who has notched seven times despite making just three starts as Wenger has been reluctant to field a player who is ready to follow Van Persie out of the club.
Walcott has rejected a £75,000-a-week contract offer and is believed to want closer to £100,000, with the Gunners boss determined to strike a deal by Christmas or sell the versatile forward in January rather than lose him for nothing when his current deal expires next summer.
“I’ve not thought about [losing him], because at the moment I think we will still manage to make a deal with him,” Wenger added. “There is urgency. We want to sort it out before Christmas, one way or the other.”
The England star is also agitating to be played in a central role, having been confined to the right wing, and though Wenger appears ready to budge he insists Walcott already has ample licence to roam infield.
“In our team, we have freedom of movement when we have the ball. Nobody is handcuffed,” said the Frenchman, whose team lie sixth as they prepare to return to the site of last season’s humiliating 8-2 defeat.
“It’s important to know where we go, but I think Theo has learnt a lot on that. He has good pace, makes excellent, intelligent runs, and he’s become a very good finisher.”
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is still out with an ankle problem, while midfielders Abou Diaby and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and left-back Kieran Gibbs also remain sidelined.
9 Robin van Persie (7 PL, 2 CL)
5 Javier Hernandez (2 PL, 2 CL, 1 LC)
2 Wayne Rooney (2 PL)
= Rafael da Silva (2 PL)
= Nani (1 PL, 1 LC)
= Shinji Kagawa (2 PL)
7 Theo Walcott (2 PL, 5 LC)
5 Gervinho (3 PL, 2 CL)
4 Lukas Podolski (2 PL, 2 CL)
3 Olivier Giroud (1 PL, 2 LC)
2 Santi Cazorla (2 PL)
= Marouane Chamakh (2 CL)
Key: PL = Premier League; CL = Champions League; LC = League Cup