LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United striker Robin van Persie will be treated with respect on his return to Arsenal, his former manager Arsene Wenger said on Thursday.
Van Persie, who quit Arsenal last year after eight seasons at the club, returns to his old stomping ground on Sunday as a Premier League champion after his hat-trick helped his new team wrap up the title against Aston Villa on Monday.
The achievement meant the Dutch international, along with the rest of the United squad, will be clapped on to the pitch by the Arsenal players in a guard of honour, a gesture that is likely to rankle the home fans still angry about his departure.
Wenger, however, said the player who quit the club for a reported fee of 24 million pounds ($36.64 million) would not be shunned by his former employers.
"We will respect the players that have played for us a long time as we always have done and treat them well before and after the game," Wenger told reporters.
"As a champion or not as a champion it is exactly the same.
"What I want is for us to have a good game and to beat them, it doesn't matter what kind of status they come with."
Van Persie has been at the heart of United's title push, rising to the top of the Premier League scoring charts with 24 goals, and Monday's second strike against Villa was a spectacular highlight.
The first-time volley that had United fans rifling through their memory banks for a finer goal scored at Old Trafford was typical of the type of finish that Van Persie produced in his final season at Arsenal.
While the overall league scoring tally of Wenger's team is not dissimilar to last season's, they have clearly lacked the attacking threat that Van Persie provided.
With the striker's return dominating the pre-match talk, there is a feeling at Arsenal, involved in a three-way battle for two Champions League spots, that they must not be distracted by Van Persie.
"Their players are of the highest level, you can't just focus on one player because their team is full of players who can create and score," Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal said on the club website (www.arsenal.com).
"We must be on our guard and be aware of certain key players, like Robin, who has scored a sack of goals this year and is playing well. He is one of their main threats."
Arsenal are third in the Premier League, a point clear of Chelsea and two ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, but having played a game more than both their London rivals. ($1 = 0.6550 British pounds)
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ed Osmond)