Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United

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Arsenal give Man Utd guard of honour

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.

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Goal difficult to accept - Wenger

It was Van Persie's 29th goal in all competitions this season, which emphasised his influence on United's 20th crown and contributed to the lingering ill-feeling felt by Arsenal supporters after his departure.

Both sides had opportunities to win late on and the draw left Arsenal in fourth place, two points ahead of north London rivals Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

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.

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.

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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.