MANCHESTER — Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 at Old Trafford on Sunday, with Louis Van Gaal‘s injury-hit side putting a severe dent in Arsenal’s title hopes.
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Teenager Marcus Rashford scored twice and set up another on his Premier League debut as the fairytale start to his professional career continued.
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Here’s three things we learned from Old Trafford.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Marcus Rashford made his Manchester United debut on Thursday as a last-minute replacement for Anthony Martial who was injured in the warm up. The 18-year-old scored twice in a 5-1 win over FC Midtjylland. That was pretty special. What happened on Sunday’s was absolutely mind-blowing.
Only starting due to a spate of injuries to United’s forwards, Rashford has taken his chance superbly and his intelligent runs and knack of being in the right place at the right time has handed him a dream start to life as a pro. For the first goal he resisted the urge to attack the goal and hung on the penalty spot, waiting for the ball to drop and he finished calmly. Old Trafford erupted. If you thought the noise was deafening after this first goal, then the second would’ve lifted the roof off the stadium if it had one. A cross from another academy product, Jesse Lingard, saw Rashford expertly peel off and get in-between Koscielny and Gabriel to head home. The home fans went ballistic.
In two games as a pro, Rashford now has four goals and although it’s too early to say if he’s the next star out of United’s academy, what’s clear is he has an eye for goal and isn’t fazed by the big occasion. Rashford’s rise from a local boys club in Manchester to starring for the Red Devils has been rapid and along with Lingard, Guillermo Varela and young Dutchman Tim Fosu-Mensah (who made his debut to replace Marcos Rojo) the young kids look alright. They’ve had to be, with 14 players out injured and nobody else to call on, Van Gaal has dished out five debuts in the last four days. Rashford also set up Ander Herrera for United’s third and crucial goal and was given a huge ovation as he was subbed out late on.
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Two former Fletcher Moss Rangers players scored on Sunday with former Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck heading home for Arsenal before the break to give them hope of a comeback. It’s safe to say that the other lad from Manchester on the pitch stole the show. If Rashford can continue to take his opportunities like he has so far, then United have a star in the making.
MONSTER MOMENT FOR LVG
When we one day look back at Van Gaal’s time in charge at United, we could well look back at this match as being a key moment whether or not he leaves this summer or sees out the end of his contract to 2017.
A banged up United squad were predicted to be annihilated by title-chasing Arsenal but instead they puffed out their chests and several academy products and second string players stood tall to lead United to a huge win in their own quest to reach the top four. With the victory they are three points behind Manchester City in fourth, but their crosstown rivals do have a game in hand.
The moment in the video above could also be key for Van Gaal’s popularity in Manchester. Usually reticent to show emotion on the sidelines, instead preferring to scribble notes on his clipboard, he raced off the bench and remonstrated with officials on the sidelines before throwing himself to the floor in exasperation. You can’t make this up. This is a moment he will always be remembered for.
Sure, he’s not well liked by the majority of United’s fans with boring tactics slammed, huge question marks over his buys in the transfer market and his brash, sometimes arrogant nature. But with the Dutchman calling continued speculation linking Jose Mourinho replacing him an “absolute scandal” earlier this week, his team stood behind him and the performance seemed to suggest they agree. Sure, this isn’t the best United side they’ve ever seen but after his sideline stunt the home fans at Old Trafford belted out: “Louis van Gaal’s Red Army.” That alone proves his popularity isn’t as paltry as the papers suggest. As his sideline antics proved, there’s still life in the old dog yet. One more look, just because…
TITLE CHANCES FADING
Arsenal crumbled. They choked. They did what they’ve been doing for the last 10 years since they last won the Premier League title. This year was meant to be different. But, with a loss at a crucial point of the season to an understrength United, it could really be curtains for their title charge.
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Coupled with Leicester’s late win on Saturday which momentarily extended their lead at the top to five points, the pressure was on Arsenal. With Tottenham battling back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at home against Swansea City, they sit two points behind Leicester while Arsenal are five points back of the first-place Foxes. There was an feeling of over-confidence about this Arsenal side. It could have all been so different had Nacho Monreal finished off Mesut Ozil’s delicious flick early on, but instead David De Gea saved and United built in confidence as the game wore on with Arsenal losing the midfield battle.
Welbeck and Ozil hit back with goals to give the Gunners hope, but they’ve been here so many times before. After giving themselves a great platform heading into the final months of the season, compared to playing catch up like they have in recent seasons, they were hoping a customary late unbeaten run would help them win the title. Now, they’re lagging behind Leicester and Spurs as the final bend approaches. Their title hopes aren’t over, but they took a huge blow on Sunday at the home of one of their most historic, and bitter, rivals.