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Van Persie arrival gives United selection dilemma

Associated Press Modified: August 16, 2012 at 7:47 am •  Published: August 16, 2012

LONDON (AP) — The imminent arrival of Robin van Persie gives Manchester United an embarrassment of riches in attack as the deposed Premier League champions begin their quest to wrest the title back from local rival Manchester City this weekend.

It also gives manager Alex Ferguson a huge selection dilemma ahead of United's first game, against Everton at Goodison Park on Monday.

If Van Persie is thrown straight into the fray, who will partner him up front out of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez? Will Rooney, currently United's star striker, drop into midfield to take on the playmaker mantle he was sometimes assigned last season? And what happens to record signing Dimitar Berbatov, who was the Premier League's top scorer in the 2010-11 season?

Whatever Ferguson decides, opposition defenses shouldn't have a moment's peace against United this season.

"He is on his way up from London for a medical later this afternoon," Ferguson said Thursday of Van Persie, who is set to cost United a reported 24 million pounds ($38 million). "We hope all the things will be tied up, although sometimes medicals do take a bit longer. I am sure he will be available for Monday's game."

City won its first title in 44 years in dramatic circumstances last season, scoring two injury-time goals in its final game to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 and top the standings on goal difference from United.

Roberto Mancini's side starts as slight favorites with British bookmakers to win the league this season, too, and begins its campaign on Sunday with a home game against promoted Southampton.

Chelsea, which lost to City 3-2 in the Community Shield on Sunday, plays its first competitive match as European champion when it visits Wigan on Sunday and has a fresh look to its forward options following the signings of attacking midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin. Fernando Torres starts the season as the No. 1 striker after the departure of Didier Drogba.

Arsenal's first game is against Sunderland, with manager Arsene Wenger hoping the recruitment of forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud can counter the loss of Van Persie.

Tottenham and Liverpool will look to threaten the division's established powers under the stewardship of new, young managers in Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, respectively. Spurs travel to Newcastle in the standout fixture of the opening round of matches, while Liverpool is away at West Bromwich Albion.

Most eyes, however, will be centered on how quickly Van Persie can make his presence felt at United, whose star-studded strikeforce rivals City's as the best in the league.

Paying such a large sum for a 29-year-old player who would have been a free agent in 12 months' time shows just how highly Ferguson rates Van Persie.

The prospect of Rooney and Van Persie — the league's top two scorers last season — teaming up is mouthwatering but it remains to be seen how Ferguson will arrange his forward line.

"They are two fantastic players and it will be great to have both of them," said Ferguson. "It gives us more strength and more combinations up front. "In 1999, I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the four best strikers in Europe. We are going towards that now with Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa. It is a fantastic collection of players and hopefully I pick the right combinations."

Everton typically is a slow starter to league seasons but produced a great comeback to earn a 4-4 draw against United at Old Trafford in May, a result that ultimately cost Ferguson's team the title.

"Man United is a big team in England and last year they almost won the title and would have done but Man City won the last game," Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini said. "But it is good for us to play a big team in the first game. It is a big test for us."

The two other promoted teams, Reading and West Ham, start their top-flight campaigns with home matches against Stoke and Aston Villa on Saturday.

The other games on Saturday are Fulham vs. Norwich and QPR vs. Swansea.