That Robin van Persie would score against the club where he spent eight years felt strangely inevitable. That he did it in such a comfortable victory for Manchester United would have made it all the more painful for Arsenal supporters who watched their side finish the game with 10 men.
The Dutchman took just three minutes to open the scoring on his first appearance against Arsenal since his £24m summer move before Wayne Rooney missed a glorious chance to double the lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time.
Patrice Evra effectively sealed the victory with a 66th minute header to take United to the top of the Premier League for at least a few hours ahead of Chelsea’s clash against Swansea.
A miserable day for Arsenal was completed when they were forced to play the final 21 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of Jack Wilshere for a second booking before Santi Cazorla scored a consolation strike with the last kick of the game.
It may not have been pretty, but United were able to swat aside opponents once regarded as their greatest competitors. The 3,000 Gunners supporters in the stadium once again made clear their frustration, singling out chief executive Ivan Gazidis and chanting ‘we want our Arsenal back’.
Sir Alex Ferguson chose to continue with the 4-4-2 formation used in the victory at Chelsea last Sunday, with Van Persie partnering Rooney in attack, while Aaron Ramsey was the only starter for Arsenal who featured in last season’s humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford.
The Arsenal fans ignored Ferguson’s plea in his programme notes to treat Van Persie as “a hero”, instead booing their former captain and targeting him with vile chants.
It took just three minutes, though, for Van Persie to provide his answer as he took advantage of woeful Arsenal defending to score his 10th goal of the season.
United right-back Rafael exploited a gaping hole in the Gunners’ left-back area and when Thomas Vermaelen failed to clear, the ball fell perfectly for Van Persie to shoot low into the bottom corner with his right foot from just inside the penalty area.
While Arsenal saw plenty of the ball in the opening period, they failed to create any chances of note and looked vulnerable defensively, with left-back Andre Santos particularly woeful.
The Gunners had goalkeeper Vito Mannone to thank for keeping them in the game as the Italian made fine stops to prevent Van Persie and then Rooney from doubling United’s advantage.
Then, on the stroke of half-time referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot after Santi Cazorla raised his arms and handled Ashley Young’s cross. United failed to take advantage, Rooney shooting wide of the left post from 12 yards, meaning the striker has now missed nine out of 26 penalties in his club career.
Arsenal improved after the break, with Olivier Giroud striking against the outside of the post from a tight angle, but in truth if always felt as though United were coasting towards a comfortable victory.
In the 66th minute, United found the second goal with a well-worked corner routine seconds after Van Persie had forced Mannone into another excellent save.
From the resulting corner, Rooney played a one-two with Young and whipped in a vicious cross for Evra, the shortest man in the penalty area, to head home in the absence of any semblance of marking from the Arsenal defenders.
To add to the misery, Wilshere was sent-off three minutes for a second booking. The midfielder, who was booked in the first half for a late challenge on Tom Cleverley, could have no complaints after lunging in on Evra by the touchline.
The game then meandered to its conclusion before Cazorla scored a wonderful curling goal with the last kick of the match. It was nowhere near enough.