1. Rashford’s week gets even better
On Thursday night against Midtjylland, Marcus Rashford scored two goals in two attempts in a dream debut for the club, but surely even he didn’t expect to repeat the feat against Arsenal. The 18-year-old became the youngest player to score twice for Manchester United in a Premier League match, which gave the home team a commanding 2-0 lead within the first half-hour.
Before kick-off Manchester United had scored their fewest number of goals (33) after 26 league games in 26 years, but even with Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney out injured, Louis van Gaal might have stumbled across a solution. The striker caused problems straight away as he was brought down on the edge of the area by Gabriel in the 12th minute.
Rashford scored two goals in a three-minute spell that sparked Old Trafford into life just before the half-hour mark. First he latched onto Gabriel’s poor clearance as the Brazilian failed to deal with Guillermo Varela’s cross, showing complete composure to put United ahead. He added his second when Varela headed the ball back to Jesse Lingard and the winger crossed for the teenager to head home.
"The timing of his movements and the intentions of his movement in the box were great," admitted opposition manager Arsene Wenger after the game. The attacker completed none of his take-ons and only 11 passes, but his contributions to the game were vital – he assisted what proved to be the winner for Ander Herrera.
There was an air of excitement around the ground whenever he got the ball – his pace and confidence are obvious, but his decision-making is still very raw. He rightfully received a standing ovation when he departed with 10 minutes remaining.
2. Arsenal’s Old Trafford blues continue
When Mesut Ozil chipped the ball into Nacho Monreal’s path in the sixth minute, it was expected that it may be a sign of things to come. But the sign didn’t prove ominous: Monreal was thwarted by his countryman David de Gea on that occasion and Ozil did create six chances in the match, but Arsenal were well below their usual standards.
“We struggled to be dangerous because they defended very well,” confessed the Frenchman. Wenger’s men laboured throughout the encounter and lacked penetration in their passing. The Gunners have won only two of their last eight Premier League away games, after previously winning 10 out of 12. They have not won in their last nine visits to Old Trafford, as they have lost seven of them.
Their best opportunities came from set-pieces, although Wenger felt they should have made more of those situations. Ozil floated a free-kick onto the head of Danny Welbeck five minutes before half-time for his 18th assist of the season, meaning only Thierry Henry has more in a single league campaign.
3. United display combative side in midfield
In an entertaining game, United showed a commitment and desire to win. That was more than evident in central midfield, with the majority of their tackles coming in the middle third of the pitch.
Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin both made five tackles each and were instrumental in stopping the away side from finding their rhythm, while Aaron Ramsey completed only one. Arsenal, on the other hand, made just four tackles in this zone and were forced into a number of last-ditch challenges in and around their own area.
“When they scored it was from defensive errors from ourselves,” said Van Gaal in the post-match press conference. “Most of all [was] the fighting spirit from the team to bring this result to the end and you could see that was seen by the fans.”
4. Carrick and Blind will struggle as defensive partnership
The advantage of playing natural central midfielders as defenders is improved distribution from the back, and is a concept adopted by some of the best tacticians in the game. Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa have all deployed midfielders in the role, but few have chosen to use two simultaneously.
Injury problems have partly caused the dilemma, although Paddy McNair was among the substitutes and the transfer window closed just a month ago. Michael Carrick was booked in the 22nd minute for a lunge on Welbeck, but Daley Blind showed his organisational skills and constantly instructed young substitute Timothy Fosu-Mensah about his positioning.
“It’s a risk, he (Wenger) put Walcott in the line-up, Welbeck in the line-up and Sanchez,” said Van Gaal. “Three quick attackers because he knew that Carrick is playing and that Blind is also not one of the fastest.”
5. Van Gaal must take some responsibility for injuries
United had no fewer than 12 players missing from injury before kick-off, and while many will describe the situation as unfortunate, Van Gaal and his management team have to accept some culpability. “It is crazy the injuries we have,” noted the Dutchman.
Van Gaal believes that although he likes to use young players, it’s now being forced upon him due to the personnel on the treatment table. However, the training regime and his use of the players at his disposal have to play a part in the continuing medical crisis.
“Marcos Rojo has been training fully after spending time out with a dislocated shoulder,” Van Gaal announced in his pre-match programme notes, but as the Argentine only played 11 minutes of the Europa League game three days prior, he was clearly not up to speed.
Van Gaal almost injured himself as he took a tumble when remonstrating with the fourth official, Mike Dean, about the way that Alexis Sanchez had fallen to the ground. “I will leave it to him to answer, otherwise he will say that I’m a bitter loser. I am in fact,” joked Wenger about Van Gaal’s touchline japery.
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