From Old Trafford – There are so many takeaways to reflect on from Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday at Old Trafford, it’s hard to know where to start.
That Mikel Arteta’s Gunners dominated the play for large parts of the 90. That United’s new €100m signing Antony from Ajax showed no signs of being overawed at a now expectant United crowd – capping off his 55-minute debut with a well-taken finish and several celebrations to go with it.
Perhaps that Arsenal, a year plus ahead in their development compared to their counterparts, allowed two goals and the game to slip from their grasp from a position of strength, or United, who have steamed to three points behind them after four wins in a row following one of the darkest defeats in recent memory. And there’s been lots of them.
Or, maybe, it’s match-winner Marcus Rashford, whose first-half assist and second-half double put the before-today-perfect league leaders to the sword for their first defeat of the season.
We’ll go with that one.
His opposite number Gabriel Jesus, starting through the middle for Arsenal, made life difficult all afternoon for United centre backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, and proved a focal point physical and skilful enough to retain possession to help his team build and sustain pressure high up the pitch. Erik ten Hag would like United to sign a striker and they would do incredibly well to attract one of his calibre.
Rashford meanwhile spent chunks of the match as a source of frustration for the home crowd, often losing battles with opposing defenders or lacking understanding with those around him to help United progress into the final third. United failed to gain control of the game until Rashford struck his first and it came against the run of play. United don’t have the players in a number of positions to dominate games.
But ultimately, his contributions decided the match.
25 next month, Rashford is in a make-or-break year at his boyhood club after a difficult couple of seasons both on the pitch and with injuries. But while United are finding it hard to play off him, he’s now well and truly back with a bang – affecting games with the sharpest tools in his skillset.
Rashford has time this year to work on the weaker parts of his game but is embracing what he’s good at, making key goal contributions in three of United’s last four wins. If he can continue to keep doing so, he’ll be a vital part of Ten Hag’s United for years to come, and United have big decisions to make on the futures of a number of first team players this season; Rashford being one of them.
Rashford played a key role in carving apart Arsenal for the opener, finding space and the right weight of pass to lay on Antony, but took advantage of his pace, ability to finish and Arsenal’s high line when afforded the opportunities in the second half, as the visitors pressed ahead for a winner themselves.
He should continue to embrace his best attributes instead of falling into old habits, and that’s what he’s doing at the moment.
Days and moments like this will only serve to build up the confidence of a player who has been without it for some time, and it’ll go a long way to rebuilding the stuttering career of one of United’s finest academy graduates if he can keep them going.
Marcus Rashford, one of football’s good guys, is scoring again and smiling again.