Manchester United gave their season new hope and put a massive dent in Arsenal’s title aspirations with a crucial 3-2 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. It has been a particularly difficult few weeks for United boss Louis Van Gaal and his men, with many calling for the manager to be sacked after a few embarrassing results seemingly ended their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season. This, plus a growing injury list that includes core players David De Gea and Wayne Rooney, gave most United fans little hope going into Sunday’s fixture against an in-form Arsenal squad.
After scoring a brace on his United debut midweek against Danish outfit FC Midtjylland in the Europa League, 18-year-old Manchester academy product Marcus Rashford was handed his first Premier League start against the Gunners and stunned Old Trafford with another two superb goals. In a scintillating performance in a crucial fixture, Man United have a new hero in local boy Rashford who provided speed, energy and passion — all factors that Manchester United have been lacking this season.
In an enthralling encounter, United jumped out to a two-goal advantage when Rashford pounced and drove home a loose ball before heading in another from Jesse Lingard’s cross just three minutes later. Danny Welbeck headed home just before the half to give Arsenal hope, but Rashford again caused havoc for their defenders when he smartly picked out Ander Herrera, who found the back of the net. Mesut Ozil scored with 20 minutes remaining, but United held strong for a statement victory that lifted them back into 5th position and above West Ham. They now sit just three points adrift their cross-town rivals Manchester City, who currently sit in the all-important 4th and final Champions League spot (although they have a game in hand on United).
Rashford was taken off after 80 minutes of impressive work, seeing him receive a standing ovation from the United crowd. Louis Van Gaal sang his praises following the game, where he told BBC Sport that the youngster was a “special talent.” Called up from the Manchester United academy due to a depleted squad, Rashford has gone from an unknown youngster to a household name in less than a week with four brilliant goals in just two appearances for the United senior squad.
Although the pulsating action ensured it was one of the best games this season, a bizarre incident on the touchline momentarily overshadowed the match and dominated much of the conversation post-game. After arguing with the fourth official over what he felt was diving by Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Manchester boss Van Gaal threw himself to the floor much to the amusement of the home crowd and the fans watching at home.
Most Manchester United fans will be eager to see the impressive Rashford in action once again, but the Manchester Evening News reports that the introduction of the teenager could effectively end Wayne Rooney’s time at United. As the captain, linchpin, and 2nd all-time top goalscorer (five shy of Bobby Charlton), this would no doubt create friction and more turbulence — something that Man United has been rocked by since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. Rooney has struggled to find an identity under Van Gaal, and the prospect of 20-year-old Anthony Martial partnering Rashford in the United attack could transform the team and alleviate the immense pressure that the manager has been under for the last few months.
The United and England skipper Rooney does not appear to be feeling the pressure and took to Twitter to offer his congratulations to the young striker.
Well done lads, big win! Congratulations again to Marcus Rashford on another great performance ⚽️⚽️— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) February 28, 2016
The injury to the Manchester captain could be a blessing in disguise as, for the time being, Van Gaal does not have to worry about making room for the starlet. With no timetable set for Rooney’s return, all eyes will be on Rashford as United attempt to save their season.
With 12 games remaining, the teams directly above them will be nervously glancing over their shoulder following Sunday’s pivotal victory and the emergence of a surprise star. Manchester also continue to fight in the Europa League after Rashford’s performance midweek saved them embarrassment, and they face Liverpool in what is a tantalising draw as England’s two most decorated clubs face off against each other. For the first time in a long time, there is excitement swirling around Old Trafford as Manchester United have new hope entering the final stretch of the season.
[Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images]