Marcus Rashford brace leads Man United to stunning 3-2 win vs. Arsenal
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Manchester United's stunning 3-2 win over Arsenal on Sunday, led by an 18-year-old striker in his Premier League debut ...
1. Rashford's fairy tale continues
Marcus Rashford leaped and punched the air after his first goal, screamed with delight following the second. For the second time, he had started for United and for the second time, he had scored twice. For good measure, he also teed up United's third goal, netted by Ander Herrera in some style. Rashford's life has changed dramatically in the space of four days.
What a happy accident his introduction into the first team has turned out to be. Before Anthony Martial was withdrawn injured in the pregame warm-ups at FC Midtjylland on Thursday, few outside Manchester had heard of him. Now, after scoring twice against the Danes on his debut Thursday night and then doing so again on Sunday against Arsenal, he has become the major talking point for football fans around the country.
United manager Louis van Gaal had tried to control expectations after the game against Midtjylland, speaking in his post-match news conference about how the second game is harder than the first for new, young players. Yet the cultured Rashford's predatory instincts inside the penalty area appeared to come easily and naturally. Expectations will only continue to grow, and the challenge will now be for Van Gaal to try to control that. But for now, when Rashford collects possession and moves forward, the excitement around Old Trafford is palpable.
"Marcus Rashford, he's one of our own," they chanted when he was withdrawn in the second half.
It has been reported that Rashford has been showing the right attitude and that he has the right people around him, which should help. On the field, he certainly looks the part with his body language and effort, a credit to the development staff at United.
Another source of encouragement for the club was that both of Rashford's goals derived from build-up play that heavily involved two of their other young players, Guillermo Varela and Jesse Lingard. The first was admittedly helped by poor defending from Arsenal, but Rashford's composure on both occasions was still commendable. His second was directed in with the assuredness and technique of someone mature beyond his years. At the age of 18 years and 120 days, the local lad is the third-youngest player to score for United in the Premier League behind Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck. He is exactly the same age that Wayne Rooney was when he scored his first double in the Premier League.
Despite Van Gaal's negative comments about Welbeck when he left the club, United can also feel pride about the Arsenal striker's development, highlighted when he scored against his former club again in this match.
United's tradition of producing young talent seems to be alive and well. Now they just need to keep up their history of nurturing them properly after bursting onto the scene.
2. Arsenal's Old Trafford curse continues
There is something about Old Trafford that often brings out the worst in Arsenal. Coming to this ground often appears to make them uncomfortable, and even when the score was 0-0, Arsene Wenger looked agitated on the sidelines. It wasn't long before he was shouting and complaining to fourth official Mike Dean. Louis van Gaal's afternoon was not stress-free or subdued, either -- memorably highlighted by his comical dive in front of Dean as the Dutchman tried to make a point -- but by the end, it was Wenger who was left with a familiar sinking feeling.
Even when facing a weakened and inexperienced United squad, which contained no outfield player over the age of 21 on the bench, Wenger's men looked nervous from the start and made life difficult for themselves. Several of their danger men failed to shine and needless mistakes were made, starting with failing to clear the ball on the play that led to Rashford's opening goal. It didn't get much better, either, as they just did not seem to know how to turn the tide. When Theo Walcott trudged off around the hour mark following another poor display, it seemed symbolic of Arsenal's underwhelming and frustrating afternoon.
Van Gaal had said to journalists before this match that Arsenal appeared to be on a different level compared to the rest of the Premier League. On this day, they weren't. Wenger was asked a lot of tactical questions and failed to answer them with his decisions. Instead, the age-old Arsenal inferiority complex was on show. Even David Moyes managed a win against Wenger's side at Old Trafford during the Scotsman's troubled time in charge.
Sunday's defeat wasn't as humiliating as some of Arsenal's other visits to Old Trafford in the Premier League era, such as the 6-1 drubbing in February 2001 and the 8-2 embarrassment in August 2011. This result might well hurt more, though, considering its importance to their title challenge.
3. Man United wound another big club
This has been a disappointing season for Manchester United, but it should be noted that they have often raised their game against the bigger clubs. This win against Arsenal was not a one-off: United have beaten Liverpool twice this season: 3-1 in September then 1-0 in January. Chelsea twice drew with them -- 0-0 in December and 1-1 in February. Van Gaal's men also drew 0-0 against Manchester City in October.
Problems, though, have come against several sides they were expected to beat. If the attitude is right among the players and the organisation is smart, there is no reason why United -- particularly with a fully fit side -- should not be in the top four and pushing higher.
Injuries have often been cited this season, and it is a fair point. The fact that they have depleted resources visibly troubled them in this match, with Marcos Rojo being rushed back into the starting lineup and struggling. Van Gaal claimed before the game that Rojo would not be risked from the start, but he still named the left-back ahead of Joe Riley. Yet Rojo was at fault for Arsenal's goal before the break and was promptly withdrawn after 55 minutes.
United's patched-up defence looked vulnerable, with two players being booked within the opening 22 minutes. Guillermo Varela hauled down Alexis Sanchez with a rugby-style challenge to earn his yellow card before makeshift centre-back Michael Carrick was booked for a sliding challenge on Welbeck. Those cautions did not help United, and there was also the need to throw another fresh face into the fray. Tim Fosu-Mensah, a rookie who came through the youth system at Ajax, came off the bench.
This is clearly still a time of turbulence for United, but once their team selection is more consistent, huge improvements can, and should, be expected.
Arindam is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @ARejSport.