Man United hero Marcus Rashford torpedoes Arsenal's title push
Teenage striker hits two goals, Van Gaal hits the deck and the Gunners come unstuck at Old Trafford
Manchester United 3 Arsenal 2
Manchester United have a new hero and his name is Marcus Rashford. Just three days after scoring twice for the Red Devils in their Europa League thrashing of Midtjylland, the 18-year-old striker bagged another brace as United inflicted what could prove to be a fatal blow to Arsenal's title hopes.
The defeat, coupled with weekend wins for Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, leaves the Gunners in third, five points behind the Foxes, who are two clear of second-place Spurs. It was a desperately poor performance by Arsenal, one that suggested the 2-0 loss to Barcelona in last week's Champions League tie has left them psychologically shot.
Both their goals owed as much to poor United defending as incisive Arsenal attacking and the visitors created scant opportunities on an afternoon when their own defending was amateurish. Despite Manchester's problems in recent years, the Gunners still have not won a league match at Old Trafford since 2006.
None of which will concern United, who lie fifth in the table, who put in a performance that was as courageous as Arsenal's was complacent. Missing 15 players through injury, manager Louis van Gaal saw his side pick up their first league win in three matches and he later lauded the contribution of Rashford, who, at 18 years and 120 days, is the third youngest player to score a Premier League goal for the team.
"The experience of mine is youngsters always play well the first match. The second match is different. Marcus played well in both matches so he is a special talent," said van Gaal.
Rashford was joined in making his United league debut by 18-year-old Tim Fosu-Mensah, who came off the bench in the second half to replace the injured Marcos Rojo. "That is why we have a small selection [squad] because then you can give youngsters a chance," said Van Gaal. "A big selection means they don't get a chance."
Rashford's double came in a devastating three-minute spell either side of the half-hour mark, with the first a result of poor defending by Gabriel, the Brazilian centre-back who just doesn't look cut out for this level. His poor clearance fell at the feet of the young Mancunian who powered the ball past Petr Cech and then followed that effort with a well-directed header from Jesse Lingard's sweet cross.
Arsenal pulled a goal back five minutes before half-time, when former United striker Danny Welbeck ran on to Mesut Ozil's free-kick to punish Manchester's static defence. But the hosts made it 3-1 on 65 minutes, when Rashford showed the other side of his game with an intelligent pass to Ander Herrera, whose shot took a wicked deflection off Laurent Koscielny to leave Cech completely wrong-footed.
Ozil reduced United's lead on 69 minutes with a scuffed shot to give the travelling fans hope, but United held on for the victory they deserved and there was even time for some theatrics from Van Gaal in the technical area. The manager threw himself to the turf under the nose of the fourth official - an attempt to mimic the diving of Arsenal players, explains Metro.
The United faithful loved it on a day when their side probably ended the title hopes of their bitter rivals and put Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger under the spotlight once more.
Yet again the Gunners' season is set to go up in flames in February and all Wenger could do was utter a string of weak platitudes. "I think after the game we have to be positive and prepare for the next one," he said.
"We did fight until the end... I am disappointed because we lost the game but we will focus on the next one. This is a fight where you go to the next one and aim to come back even stronger."
Except Arsenal aren't coming back stronger. They're weakening - as are their hopes of any silverware this season.