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Van Persie gets Giggs' backing before facing old club

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom -- Ryan Giggs has hailed the impact of Robin van Persie as the Manchester United striker prepares to face his former club Arsenal for the first time since moving to Old Trafford in August.

Van Persie, who scored 96 Premier League goals for Arsenal during eight years at the London club, is hoping to be on target yet again when United bid to go top of the table against the Gunners at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The Netherlands striker, 29, has scored seven times in his first nine league outings since completing a 24-million-pound (US$39 million) move from Arsenal to Manchester three months ago.

But veteran United midfielder Giggs stressed van Persie had also made a huge contribution in setting up goals for his new team-mates.

“We're like the supporters — we look forward to playing with and seeing quality players come into the team, and Robin is certainly that,” Giggs said.

“He's proven that with his goals and all-round play since he's come to the club,” added Giggs, whose side will kickoff a point behind leaders Chelsea.

“Robin's set-piece delivery has been really important to us. It's a big plus this season that we're scoring from set-pieces and corners. That's something we haven't done over the last few years as often as we'd have liked.

“So with Robin, it's not just goals you get. He's helped add more goals to the score sheet and helped a few different names get on there.”

Van Persie's presence in the United lineup will provide Arsene Wenger with a painful reminder of the Gunners' failure to hold onto their biggest stars in recent years.

The Arsenal manager, though, hopes his former player is given a warm reception by the club's supporters despite Van Persie making it clear he wanted to leave the Emirates Stadium.

“I don't know (what reception he'll get) but I hope it is a respectful one because he has played for us for eight years, he has done very well for us,” Wenger said.

A youthful United side were knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea on Wednesday and manager Alex Ferguson is expected to make wholesale changes from the side that went down 5-4 at Stamford Bridge.

As well as van Persie, England striker Wayne Rooney is also expected to return to the team after being rested in midweek along with defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.

United will replace Chelsea, if only for a few hours, at the top of the table if they overcome Arsenal, who start the weekend in sixth spot, in the lunchtime kick-off.

The corresponding fixture last season saw United humiliate Arsenal 8-2, with Rooney scoring a hat trick.

However, Giggs labeled that result a “fluke performance” and the 38-year-old added: “We always expect a tough performance against Arsenal, both home and away. It's no different this time.

“I think that last season was one of those fluke performances.”

“This season they got off to a really good start. They've stuttered a little in recent weeks but they have plenty of quality.”

Wenger's side will arrive at Old Trafford buoyed by their remarkable midweek comeback when they recovered to beat Premier League rivals Reading 7-5 in the League Cup having fallen 4-0 behind.

Theo Walcott scored a hat trick to provide Wenger with a timely reminder of his talents at a critical stage in the player's contract negotiations.

Walcott's current deal is due to expire after the end of this season but Wenger said: “I've not thought about that (losing him), because at the moment I think we will still manage to make a deal with him.

“There is urgency. We want to sort it out before Christmas, one way or the other,” the Frenchman added.

Gervinho is expected to be out for three weeks after injuring his ankle in last weekend's home victory over Queens Park Rangers.

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