MANCHESTER United manager Alex Ferguson would be surprised if Robin van Persie was not given a warm reception by Arsenal fans this weekend.
The prolific Dutchman is poised to face his former club for the first time since joining United in a £24million summer deal as the Gunners visit Old Trafford in the Premier League tomorrow.
Van Persie scored 37 goals for the Londoners last season but, with his contract running down, opted not to renew and the club sold to their rivals.
The 29-year-old has since made a fine start at United, scoring nine times in 12 appearances.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has said Van Persie, who was brought to England from Feyenoord by the Gunners in 2004, deserves respect and Ferguson agrees.
Ferguson said: "I think Arsene has laid his seed for his supporters in terms of respecting him.
"I think, if you think about all the former players who have come back to Old Trafford, they always get a warm applause.
"I don't think he'll have a problem tomorrow. I think the fans will recognise the eight years he gave them and I think that will be nice."
As well as scoring goals, Van Persie has made a good all-round contribution to the United cause and Ferguson thinks he has settled quickly because no acclimatisation was necessary.
Ferguson said: "He is a mature player and I think that helps, and the experience he has got playing eight years in England.
"The fact he has played in England makes it easier to go to another English club.
"It has been very satisfying for us. It has been a fantastic start and hopefully he keeps it going."
Van Persie was on target for Arsenal on their forgettable last visit to Old Trafford in August last year, when they were hammered 8-2.
Ferguson is certainly not expecting a repeat of that extraordinary scoreline.
He said: "It won't happen tomorrow, that's for sure.
"There is no point living in the past, we have just got to look forward to tomorrow.
"It could be a way of motivating Arsenal, that is possible, but I think we have got to have the motivation to make sure we win the match."
Having beaten leaders Chelsea last weekend, United, possibly only briefly, could go top of the table with victory in the lunchtime kick-off.
But Ferguson, whose side enjoyed a fierce top-of-the-table rivalry with Arsenal in the last decade, believes Wenger's men are a tougher proposition than in the recent past.
Ferguson, who reaches the 26th anniversary of his appointment by United next week, said: "Of course every game against Arsenal is always a big one.
"Since I have come down here it has always been a most important derby game, in the sense that both teams have been challenging for the league. It won't be any different tomorrow.
"I think they have improved defensively this year, there is no question about that. They are a solid team.
"I think they are stronger - physically stronger - if you look at the make-up of their team.
"(Lukas) Podolski, (Olivier) Giroud, all these players they have brought in are more physical types of player than they have had in the past."
Both sides go into the game on the back of remarkable Capital One Cup ties that went to extra time in midweek.
Arsenal overturned a 4-0 deficit to beat Reading 7-5 and progress to the quarter-finals, while United were undone 5-4 at Chelsea despite leading 3-2 in the final minute of normal time.
Ferguson said: "You have to give amazing credit to Arsenal. It has been an amazing turnaround.
"It was one of those crazy games - 12 goals in that game and nine in ours the next night.
"Twenty-one goals in those two League Cup games. Capital One, the sponsors, will be rubbing their hands.
"It's probably the best night they're ever going to get. A great advert for the cup."
Ferguson made 10 changes for what was a second match against Chelsea in the space of three days but, despite it not being top priority, he was still bothered by the loss and his porous defence.
He said: "It was frustrating. I think the laws of the game have changed, the linesman giving offside against Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) in his own half.
"That's a new one, and they scored from that. But football's football.
"The one thing that came out of it was it was a fantastic game of football.
"Nine goals - we are now in a situation where we need to score six goals to win games!"