By Phil McNultyChief football writer at the Emirates Stadium
Robin van Persie answered the taunts of Arsenal's fans as he returned to the Emirates Stadium with a goal that denied his former club a vital victory in their fight to secure Champions League football next season.
Arsenal formed a guard for Van Persie and his Manchester United team-mates before kick-off after they
secured the Premier League title
- but the goodwill ended there in a fiercely fought contest.
Van Persie's mistake contributed to Theo Walcott giving Arsenal an early lead but he made amends when he equalised from the spot just before half-time after he was fouled by Bacary Sagna.
For United, the result means they cannot now achieve the record Premier League points total of 95 - but the main priority was secured by Sir Alex Ferguson and his players with that victory against Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday.
The respectful preliminaries were swiftly forgotten in a feisty first 45 minutes in which Van Persie, inevitably, was a central figure and six players were cautioned.
Van Persie was at fault as Arsenal were ahead inside two minutes, giving the ball away carelessly in midfield. Tomas Rosicky found Walcott in an offside position but he was allowed to run on and beat United keeper David de Gea with an angled finish.
De Gea then showed agility to push away Santi Cazorla's 25-yard drive as Arsenal opened with much greater intensity than United, a fact that brought assorted members of their management team into the technical area to demand swift improvements.
Van Persie has scored in each of his last four appearances where Arsenal have played Man Utd (twice for both teams)
Despite calls from Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to
greet Van Persie's return with "class",
it was always a forlorn plea and the home fans reacted with delight when their former striker received a yellow card from referee Phil Dowd for a late sliding challenge on Per Mertesacker.
Of greater concern to Arsenal was the fact that, after a sluggish start mirroring United's own display, Van Persie was building momentum and becoming an increasing source of danger.
Phil Jones should have done better than head Van Persie's cross wide and the striker himself saw a close-range effort blocked by the face of Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
The tackles were flying in, with an enraged Ferguson berating the fourth official after Aaron Ramsey barged Nani, but in among the physical challenges United were growing in authority and equalised moments before half-time.
In a nightmare moment for Sagna, he first conceded possession to Van Persie then compounded his error by bringing the striker down in the area as he attempted to recover. The jeers of Arsenal's fans fell on deaf ears as Van Persie coolly beat Szczesny from the spot.
Van Persie showed bottle - Ferguson
United's improvement continued after the restart as Wayne Rooney headed straight at Szczesny, while Sagna - who had been booked for his foul on Van Persie - could count himself very fortunate to stay on the field after a late challenge on Patrice Evra.
Wenger sensed his side needed greater presence in midfield and introduced Jack Wilshere after 62 minutes, although his decision to replace Rosicky was somewhat more surprising.
As time ran out, Cazorla brought another fine diving save from De Gea as Arsenal went in search of the goal that would have meant so much in their quest to secure a place in the top four.
Substitute Ryan Giggs then had an opportunity on the break but was unable to take advantage and the points were shared.
Full Time The final whistle is blown by the referee.
Unfair challenge on Laurent Koscielny by Robin van Persie results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Laurent Koscielny.
Foul by Oliveira Anderson on Mikel Arteta, free kick awarded. Wojciech Szczesny restarts play with the free kick.
Javier Hernandez fouled by Bacary Sagna, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Patrice Evra.
Corner taken by Ryan Giggs from the right by-line, Header from close range by Patrice Evra clears the bar.
Substitution Javier Hernandez is brought on as a substitute for Wayne Rooney.
Santi Cazorla takes a shot. Jonny Evans gets a block in.
Ryan Giggs takes a shot. Blocked by Per Mertesacker.
Per Mertesacker takes a shot. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain takes a shot. Blocked by Jonny Evans. Outswinging corner taken by Theo Walcott, Michael Carrick manages to make a clearance.
Santi Cazorla takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save. Corner taken right-footed by Santi Cazorla.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Save by Wojciech Szczesny.
Corner taken right-footed by Wayne Rooney, Per Mertesacker makes a clearance.
Substitution Ryan Giggs is brought on as a substitute for Luis Nani.
Booking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain receives a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
Substitution Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain comes on in place of Aaron Ramsey.
Theo Walcott takes a shot. Robin van Persie gets a block in. Corner from the right by-line taken by Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie manages to make a clearance.
Theo Walcott takes a shot. Rio Ferdinand gets a block in.
Substitution Oliveira Anderson is brought on as a substitute for Rafael Da Silva.
Aaron Ramsey takes a shot. Phil Jones gets a block in. Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Theo Walcott from the left by-line, Laurent Koscielny takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the crossbar.
Substitution (Arsenal) makes a substitution, with Yao Gervinho coming on for Lukas Podolski.
Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Santi Cazorla.
Booking Booking for Antonio Valencia for unsporting behaviour.
Antonio Valencia handles the ball and concedes a free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jack Wilshere by Antonio Valencia. Jack Wilshere restarts play with the free kick.
Phil Jones fouled by Mikel Arteta, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Rafael Da Silva.
Free kick taken by David De Gea.
Substitution Tomas Rosicky goes off and Jack Wilshere comes on.
Laurent Koscielny gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Phil Jones.
Tomas Rosicky takes a shot. Blocked by Jonny Evans.
Robin van Persie challenges Per Mertesacker unfairly and gives away a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Wojciech Szczesny.
Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Wojciech Szczesny makes a save.
Aaron Ramsey concedes a free kick for a foul on Jonny Evans. Free kick taken by David De Gea.
Effort on goal by Rafael Da Silva from just outside the area goes harmlessly over the target.
Unfair challenge on Michael Carrick by Tomas Rosicky results in a free kick. David De Gea takes the indirect free kick.
Aaron Ramsey takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Effort from the edge of the area by Tomas Rosicky goes wide of the left-hand upright.
The referee gets the second half started.
45:00 +3:07 Half time
Half Time The whistle is blown to end the first half.
The official flags Santi Cazorla offside. Indirect free kick taken by David De Gea.
Tomas Rosicky takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Santi Cazorla takes a shot. Blocked by Michael Carrick.
43:18 Goal scored
Goal! - Robin van Persie - Arsenal 1 - 1 Man Utd Placed penalty scored by Robin van Persie. Arsenal 1-1 Man Utd.
Booking Bacary Sagna receives a caution.
Bacary Sagna challenges Robin van Persie unfairly and gives away a Penalty.
Phil Jones produces a header from deep inside the six-yard box which goes wide of the right-hand upright.
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save by Wojciech Szczesny.
Foul by Antonio Valencia on Santi Cazorla, free kick awarded. Mikel Arteta takes the free kick.
Tomas Rosicky has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the left-hand post.
Luis Nani takes a shot. Per Mertesacker gets a block in.
Outswinging corner taken by Santi Cazorla.
Free kick crossed right-footed by Wayne Rooney, save by Wojciech Szczesny.
Booking Theo Walcott is given a yellow card.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Patrice Evra by Theo Walcott.
Lukas Podolski takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Free kick crossed by Santi Cazorla, Robin van Persie manages to make a clearance.
Booking Jonny Evans booked for unsporting behaviour.
Unfair challenge on Theo Walcott by Jonny Evans results in a free kick.
Wojciech Szczesny restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Robin van Persie goes into the book.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Per Mertesacker by Robin van Persie.
The ball is swung over by Bacary Sagna, Rafael Da Silva manages to make a clearance.
Robin van Persie gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Laurent Koscielny. Aaron Ramsey takes the direct free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Nani by Tomas Rosicky. Indirect free kick taken by Jonny Evans.
Kieran Gibbs takes the direct free kick.
Booking Rafael Da Silva booked.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Rafael Da Silva on Tomas Rosicky.
Aaron Ramsey challenges Michael Carrick unfairly and gives away a free kick. Michael Carrick takes the free kick.
Corner taken short by Theo Walcott.
Phil Jones has a headed effort at goal from close in which goes wide left of the target.
Theo Walcott delivers the ball from the free kick right-footed from left channel.
Booking The referee shows Phil Jones a yellow card.
Phil Jones concedes a free kick for a foul on Mikel Arteta.
Foul by Lukas Podolski on Phil Jones, free kick awarded. Phil Jones takes the direct free kick. Foul by Lukas Podolski on Patrice Evra, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Luis Nani.
The offside flag is raised against Robin van Persie. Indirect free kick taken by Kieran Gibbs.
Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the target.
Tomas Rosicky gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Phil Jones. Jonny Evans takes the free kick.
Corner taken by Lukas Podolski from the right by-line, save by David De Gea.
Santi Cazorla takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.
Effort from outside the penalty area by Tomas Rosicky goes wide left of the target.
The assist for the goal came from Tomas Rosicky.
1:43 Goal scored
Goal! - Theo Walcott - Arsenal 1 - 0 Man Utd Theo Walcott finds the net with a goal from inside the six-yard box high into the middle of the goal. Arsenal 1-0 Man Utd.
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