Robin van Persie begins his Manchester United career in earnest when he makes his home debut against Fulham in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday. Whether he realises that an anniversary is at hand is another matter.
After the disappointment of Monday night’s defeat at Everton, Van Persie is sure to start for his new club at Old Trafford, a year to the weekend since one of the most demoralising experiences of his footballing life.
Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2 perhaps stood out as the most remarkable scoreline of a series of peculiar results in matches between the top teams last season.
The fact that Manchester City won 5-1 at Tottenham on the same day – August 28 – and ended up being overshadowed perhaps illustrates the point.
What is more pertinent, though, is the fact that day – more than any other – revealed to Van Persie just how far Arsenal had fallen behind a team they used to consider rivals for the top position in the Premier League.
When placed in that context, it’s hard to understand anyone who criticises the 29-year-old’s decision to swap London for Manchester.
Van Persie played and missed a penalty that day.
On Saturday he returns to that particular pitch for the first time. In all likelihood he will partner Wayne Rooney, the United centre forward who scored three of his team’s eight goals a year ago.
The two men did spend 22 minutes playing together at Goodison Park on Monday night after Van Persie was sent on as substitute to help chase the game against David Moyes’s team.
On Saturday, however we should be able to form some idea of just how this partnership is going to work
‘I’m excited about watching it myself,’ said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. ‘Robin is a very, very good player and he brings a maturity to us up front. ‘I am looking forward to starting him …when he starts. It’s important that he brings something to the team. His goals record last year was fantastic. I hope he can do this for us and give us more of an edge.
‘Wayne got 30-something last season and has been improving on his goalscoring for the last two or three years.
‘We need a contribution from all the strikers. Chicho (Javier Hernandez) is capable and Danny Welbeck gives us something different. We have fantastic options and that’s part of the attraction now.’
Last season at Arsenal, Van Persie carried the load of sole goal-scoring responsibility. The Holland star scored 30 times in the league, a staggering 22 goals ahead of the club’s second highest scorer Theo Walcott.
At Old Trafford, Rooney scored 27 league goals and, even though he was backed up by 10 from Hernandez and useful single-figure contributions from Welbeck (nine), Nani (eight) and Dimitar Berbatov (seven), it is clear that both members of United’s new strike partnership will be quite glad to see each other.
Ferguson – still vexed by losing last season’s title on goal difference – has already vowed that his team will score more times than last season’s 89.
With Rooney and Van Persie, one would imagine United certainly have a chance.
How they line up will certainly be intriguing and perhaps provide a pointer for the season. The talented Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa impressed against Everton and it is hard to see him being left out, meaning that there is room for only one of Welbeck, Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
‘Shinji’s goalscoring record is better than most players in that position,’ said Ferguson. ‘His past two years at Dortmund showed that. I think that will come. I think he will score goals for us.
‘He will also create chances as he did on Monday. That shows he has the vision and passing ability to open up defences.
‘You need a full squad at this level. We have 27 or 28 players.
‘There are lots of games and you pick up injuries. We have a strong squad and we are going to use it. There will be opportunities for all the players to contribute to whatever we go on to achieve.’
Ferguson revealed none of the four injured central defenders absent against Everton will be available. Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand trained on Friday but neither will make it, meaning Michael Carrick continues in defence with Paul Scholes in midfield.
But it will be at the other end of the field that the intrigue lies this afternoon.
Fulham actually scored five times themselves in beating Norwich last weekend, but that stroll in the sun could well be a distant memory by 5pm.