Marcus Rashford completes dream week as United take down Arsenal

Teenage striker scores two goals on his Premier League debut

Manchester United 3 Arsenal 2

This was a minor classic that featured two more Marcus Rashford goals, a sold-out Old Trafford witnessing Louis van Gaal dropping to the floor to plead with the fourth official, and Manchester United recording a famous victory that is a serious blow to Arsenal's title hopes.

If the 10-1 odds offered during the game on Rashford making England’s Euro 2016 squad seem hasty these may be viewed generous if he continues the Hollywood start to his United career.

Just as his twin strikes secured United’s passage over Midtjylland into the Europa League last 16 on Thursday, so his Premier League debut ended after 80 minutes with him having created Ander Herrera’s winner to complement his two goals.


The Spaniard’s strike came before the Van Gaal pantomime. But tempers were already fraying when the Dutchman decided to do what he rarely ever does: leave his seat.

This received a raucous reception from the crowd. But when the manager yelled at Mike Dean, the fourth official, and then dived to the turf to mimic how he believed Alexis Sánchez was trying to swindle a foul, the place went through the roof.

It had the fans singing “Louis van Gaal’s army” for the first time in a long time and could yet revive the love affair between them and the Dutchman.

After his two-goal debut on Thursday Rashford was asked by Van Gaal to do it all again versus an opponent more than a couple of classes better than the Danish champions.

It did not take long for him to suggest he could. Hugging the left touchline Rashford ran on a diagonal at Petr Cech's goal, displaying a slipperiness that confounded Héctor Bellerín and Gabriel and forced the latter to foul him. The shout went up for a penalty but the referee, Craig Pawson, adjudged it outside the area and Memphis Depay zipped a low hard free-kick under which Herrera ducked and Cech watched carefully.

There was only sloppiness in the way Theo Walcott ceded possession to presage the sequence that led to Rashford's opener. Herrera took the ball and sprayed it right to Guillermo Varela. The Uruguayan's cross missed Mata, Gabriel hashed his clearance, and Rashford was in dreamland once more with a neat finish.

This was on 29 minutes. Only three more were required for Rashford to repeat the feat and send the home crowd into near-ecstasy. Again the play was along the United right and again Varela was a key player. This time he fashioned a slick back-header to keep the ball alive. It found Jesse Lingard and when he floated in the delivery Rashford rose like a seasoned centre forward to head beyond Cech.

This meant Rashford had touched the ball twice in the Arsenal area and scored each time. The second occasion created a party atmosphere in the stadium but this lasted just eight minutes as Arsenal scored and United were back in two steps forward and one back mode.

This was too simple for the Gunners. Mesut Özil swung in a free-kick, Marcos Rojo and Morgan Schneiderlin were slumbering, and up rose Welbeck to finish.

Rashford was in the XI as Anthony Martial remained unavailable due to a hamstring problem and a heavy injury list that runs to 13 players also caused Van Gaal to field Michael Carrick in central defence, as Rojo made a first start since November 25th because of a dislocated shoulder.

As the scoreline stood at the start of the second half Arsenal were five points behind Leicester City and embarking on a 45 minutes that might make or break their championship aspirations. Sánchez signalled he understood the stakes by making a run at the home defence but the threat fizzled out.

United – and Rojo’s – injury curse was about to strike again. The defender and Welbeck contested a fierce 50-50 and moments later he had to go off, to be replaced by the 18-year-old Tim Fosu-Mensah. It was the Dutchman’s debut.

As the hour mark came and went Arsenal were becalmed and Wenger finally made a move. Off went the disappointing Walcott and on came Giroud. If this was supposed to give Arsenal a boost it misfired almost instantly. Rashford, again, refused to be left out.

When Mata fashioned a smooth reverse pass it was into Rashford's clever run. He roved into the area, dawdled, measured a pass to Herrera and the Spaniard's side-footed finish deflected off Laurent Koscielny for United's third.

As they had to, Arsenal responded as a topsy-turvy affair took its next turn. David de Gea, who was returning from a leg injury, made a close-range save from Welbeck but Özil ghosted into position, hitting his volley into the turf which bounced up inside De Gea’s top right-hand corner.

From here the temperature began to rise. Herrera dropped Aaron Ramsey and the Welshman sprang back up and raised his hands to the midfielder. Down went Herrera, up went the ire of the home support, and after a melee of players calmed down, Pawson showed Ramsey a yellow card, to his relief.

Now came the latest classic Van Gaal moment. Incensed by Sánchez trying to con a free-kick, out he went to remonstrate with Dean. The pure delirium that accompanied Van Gaal lying prone before Dean was matched when Pawson blew for full-time and United had a third consecutive win for the first time since November.

(Guardian service)