Robin van Persie returned to frustrate Arsenal as the Manchester United striker rescued a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium in London, while Reading and Queens Park Rangers were relegated from the Premier League on Sunday after playing out a 0-0 draw.
Van Persie was making his first appearance back at Arsenal since last year’s ￡24 million (US$37 million) transfer to United and he was given a hostile reception from the home supporters.
However, after Theo Walcott had given Arsenal a second-minute lead, the Dutch forward silenced the boo-boys when he fired home from the penalty spot after being fouled by Bacary Sagna in the 44th minute.
United manager Alex Ferguson saluted Van Persie for keeping his composure and took a dig at the Arsenal fans in the process.
“It takes bottle to take a penalty when the crowd are booing,” Ferguson said. “We have a great spirit of applauding players when they come back to our club. I expected the booing to be honest with you.”
“Walcott apparently was offside for his goal. The referee apologized to [United centerback] Rio Ferdinand, saying he got it wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t his fault, it was the linesman’s. It was an uphill fight for us after losing the first goal.”
With the title already wrapped up, champions United were happy to settle for a draw, but the result was a setback for Arsenal, who dropped down to fourth place following Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Swansea City.
“We gave everything and at the end of the day the regret you have is the way we conceded the goal. Just before halftime, that was a serious blow to us,” Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said.
A win for either Reading or QPR at the Madejski Stadium would have kept alive their slender chances of staying up, at least until Aston Villa’s clash with Sunderland yesterday, but both looked wracked with nerves during a goalless stalemate which condemned Nigel Adkins’ Reading and Harry Redknapp’s QPR to the Championship.
Bottom side Reading and QPR, who are second from bottom, are both nine points behind fourth-from-bottom Aston Villa with three games remaining, but with Villa meeting third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic on the final day of the season there is no chance of either avoiding the drop.
QPR have been backed heavily by Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes over the past 12 months, but Redknapp concedes their expensively assembled squad will not find it easy to win an immediate return to the Premier League.
“Next year it will be very difficult to get promoted, there are some good teams,” Redknapp said. “It will be a big challenge, there are lots of good teams in the Championship. For us to get promoted we have to come back in pre-season and get super fit.”
Reading return to the Championship just 12 months after being promoted as champions and Adkins wants them to learn the lessons of their top-flight failure.
“I have told the players to bottle up the feeling as it is never nice to get relegated and make sure they never feel that way again,” Adkins said.
We must now build for the future and learn the lessons well from this season. We have to regroup and put ourselves in a position to challenge to get back into the Premier League,” he said.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea cruised to a comfortable victory over Swansea which lifted them into third place, one point ahead of Arsenal.
Rafael Benitez’s side showed no signs of tiredness, despite their recent grueling schedule, and Oscar gave them the lead with a fine finish from Frank Lampard’s pass in the 43rd minute.
Lampard, who had come on as a substitute for the injured Ramires, netted the second goal in first-half stoppage-time.
The England midfielder took his Chelsea career goal tally to 201 — within one of Bobby Tambling’s record — when he drove home a penalty after Leon Britton had fouled Juan Mata in the area.
That was enough to move Chelsea three points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the race to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
“We played good football,” Benitez said. “The idea was to score an early goal, we didn’t manage that, but we did eventually score and then pushed for the second before halftime.”