Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson expects star striker Robin van Persie to be treated with “respect” by visiting fans when he faces former club Arsenal on Saturday.
The Dutch forward will play against the Gunners for the first time since his £24 million ($39 million) pre-season move when United play Arsenal in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Van Persie scored 37 goals for the London club last season but with his contract running down left amidst concerns the ambition of Arsenal, without a major trophy in seven years, did not match his own desire for silverware.
The 29-year-old has quickly settled into life at Old Trafford, with nine goals in 12 appearances in all competitions to leave his new club just a point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who brought van Persie to England from Feyenoord in 2004, has urged Gunners fans to give the striker a sporting reception and it was a sentiment echoed by Ferguson on Friday.
“I think Arsene has laid his seed for his supporters in terms of respecting him,” Ferguson said. “I think, if you think about all the former players who have come back to Old Trafford, they always get a warm applause.
“I don't think he'll have a problem tomorrow. I think the fans will recognise the eight years he gave them and I think that will be nice.”
As well as his goals, van Persie has also impressed the United faithful with his all-round game and Ferguson said: “He is a mature player and I think that helps, and the experience he has got playing eight years in England.
“The fact he has played in England makes it easier to go to another English club.
“It has been very satisfying for us. It has been a fantastic start and hopefully he keeps it going.”
Last season's corresponding fixture produced a stunning 8-2 scoreline in United's favour but Ferguson is not expecting a repeat of that remarkable result on Saturday.
“It won't happen tomorrow, that's for sure. There is no point living in the past, we have just got to look forward to tomorrow.
“It could be a way of motivating Arsenal, that is possible, but I think we have got to have the motivation to make sure we win the match.”
Victory for United would, possibly only briefly, put them on top of the table ahead of Chelsea's match at Swansea later Saturday.
Arsenal may have fallen off the title pace in recent seasons but Ferguson, who next week celebrates the 26th anniversary of his arrival at Old Trafford, has spent much of his time at United vying for Premier League honours with the Gunnners and has a healthy respect for Wenger's side, currently in sixth spot.
“Of course every game against Arsenal is always a big one. Since I have come down here it has always been a most important derby game, in the sense that both teams have been challenging for the league. It won't be any different tomorrow.
“I think they have improved defensively this year, there is no question about that. They are a solid team.
“I think they are stronger – physically stronger – if you look at the make-up of their team.”
Arsenal came back from 4-0 down to knock Reading out of the League Cup 7-5 in midweek while United were knocked out of the tournament following a 5-4 loss to Chelsea despite leading 3-2 in the final minute of normal time.
“It was one of those crazy games – 12 goals in that game and nine in ours the next night.
“Nine goals – we are now in a situation where we need to score six goals to win games!”, joked Ferguson. – AFP