Clinical: Theo Walcott put Arsenal a goal to the good after just two minutes
However, despite enduring plenty of cheers from the home support as passions continued to run high in the wake of his controversial £24million move to Old Trafford last summer, Van Persie kept his cool to equalise from the spot just before half-time after being brought down by Bacary Sagna.
To his credit, there was no wild celebration from the former Arsenal captain, who continued to test the home defence in the second half.
Neither side, though, was able to press on and claim all three points, with a draw seeing Arsenal drop into fourth place, but still two points ahead of Tottenham, albeit having played a match more in the race for Champions League qualification.
A chorus of boos greeted Van Persie as he emerged from the tunnel at the end of the United line.
Those jeers, however, were soon replaced by raucous celebration as Walcott swept the hosts ahead.
Van Persie lost possession on the half-way line, and Arsenal countered quickly as the ball was worked up field to Tomas Rosicky, whose released Walcott down the right.
The England forward was at best in line with United full-back Patrice Evra, but needed no second invitation as he raced on into the penalty area before slotting under David De Gea.
Blast from the past: Arsenal fans watched Robin van Persie net from the spot for United to equalise
In front: Arsenal players rush to congratulate Walcott after he netted the opener
Understated: Van Persie refused to celebrate after scoring United’s first of the afternoon
Arsenal remained on the offensive, with the United goalkeeper again called into action to beat away Santi Carzola’s curling 20-yard effort.
The Gunners faithful took great delight in barracking their former hero every time Van Persie got on the ball – and revelled in some more Schadenfraude when the United forward drilled a left-foot shot high and wide after being played in to the edge of the penalty area.
United threatened on the break as Phil Jones sprinted the whole length of the Emirates Stadium pitch to arrive at pace in the Arsenal box as Van Persie floated over a superb cross toward the penalty spot – but could only plant his downward header wide.
The Arsenal fans were screaming for a red card on 27 minutes when Van Persie slid into Per Mertesacker for a 50/50 on the nearside, but rightly Phil Dowd produced a yellow.
Cazorla released Lukas Podolski down the left channel, with his angled drive beaten away.
United would have levelled on 38 minutes but for a superb reaction save from Wojciech Szczesny.
Dropping the shoulder: Wayne Rooney tries to lose Santi Cazorla in the centre of the park
Dutch of class: Van Persie (right) teases Mikel Arteta by bringing the ball down with aplomb
Stonewaller: Van Persie nicked the ball away from Bacary Sagna (left) in the area
Nani broke quickly down the left and crossed into the six-yard box, where Van Persie sent his point-blank bullet header goalwards. Somehow, though, Szczesny spread-eagled himself to take the full force of the ball square in his face.
The equaliser eventually came on 44 minutes after Sagna inexplicably gave the ball away to Van Persie, who sprinted on into the area.
The France full-back recovered ground, but then slid in to trip his former team-mate, and Dowd immediately pointed to the spot.
After some theatrics from Szczesny, Van Persie kept cool to fire the ball into the right corner – before turning away with no celebration.
Respect: Arsenal players gave the Premier League champions a guard of honour before kick-off
Here he comes: Van Persie was met with a frosty reception as he walked back onto the pitch at the Emirates
Arsenal started the second half with some purpose, as Rosicky’s curled effort flew just wide.
United, though, always looked to have another gear, as Van Persie scampered away down the left before cutting a low cross back through the Gunners’ six-yard box.
Rafael then lifted an angled drive over the bar from 20 yards before Rooney’s downward header was gathered by the Arsenal keeper at the second attempt.
Antonio Valencia was the next man in the referee’s busy notebook when he handled just outside the area as Kieran Gibbs knocked down a cross-field pass from Cazorla.
The Spaniard took the free-kick himself, but drilled it wide.
Arsenal briefly rallied heading into the final 20 minutes, with Jones blocking a goal-bound effort from Ramsey and defender Laurent Koscielny firing over from the corner.
De Gea turned away a low, 20-yard strike from Carzola, before United substitute Ryan Giggs had a curling effort deflected behind following a quick counter and both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils.
Collaboration: Jay-Z (far left) and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin were at the stadium