Reds hail hero Rashford
Manchester Utd 3 Arsenal 2
Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30
It was going to take something big to upstage Marcus Rashford on the day he scored two more goals on his Premier League debut for Manchester United, but if there was one man up to the task then it was an unpredictable Dutchman with a tendency for the outrageous.
Louis van Gaal has, in the past, dropped his trousers mid team-talk and, while he did not go that far this time, his decision to throw himself on the ground at Mike Dean's feet in protest was up there with his demented chanting at last year's end-of-season club awards.
For a moment he lay on the floor, a 64-year-old man, gripping his tactics folder across his chest, looking up accusingly at fourth official Dean.
You had to wonder whether the assistance of St John Ambulance could be required, but as Van Gaal struggled back to his feet and headed to his seat, the reaction of the Old Trafford crowd told that they had loved it.
The United manager was contrite afterwards, saying that he had apologised to the officials, although he did not mention Arsene Wenger, who struggled to see the funny side of it.
Over the past two games, however, Old Trafford has got a bit of its joy back and some of its edge, especially against old rivals who are going for the title.
The 18-year-old Rashford took his tally to four goals in two games for United, and there was victory for a patched-up team that gave two more academy graduates their debuts as substitutes, taking the number of rookies to five in the past three games.
United have two midfielders over-achieving as stand-in centre-backs, Guillermo Varela at right-back and a bench of outfield players entirely sourced from the academy, but still they beat Arsenal.
There is no denying that this was a test of character that Arsenal failed against a United team who should have been there for the taking.
The big players did not come through for Wenger, including Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.
The exception was Mesut Ozil, who scored one goal and made the visitors' other, but too many of his team-mates are simply fading away when it matters most.
At White Hart Lane, their neighbours and title rivals Tottenham came from a goal behind to beat Swansea City and hold on to second place, two points behind leaders Leicester City.
It means that when the north London rivals meet on Saturday lunchtime, Spurs can go six points clear of Arsenal.
Old Trafford is the cruellest of grounds for Wenger. They may have won the title here 14 years ago but too often this corner of Manchester has turned into a barren, spiteful piece of earth.
A Wenger side has not won in the league at Old Trafford since September 2006 and, while he praised United's defensive fortitude and refused to blame his players, there must have been a strong temptation to do so.
The game had its edge, and there was a long deliberation by referee Craig Pawson over whether or not to dismiss Aaron Ramsey for a hand thrust into the face of Ander Herrera in the second half.
There were shoves and posturing, and yet it seemed to be United's young players who handled the pressure better than Wenger's team.
If they win Saturday's game, then the momentum will change again for Arsenal,, but since that last-minute win over Leicester, it has ebbed.
Walcott started yesterday to try and exploit the lack of pace among United's makeshift centre-backs, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick, yet the England forward, replaced by Olivier Giroud in the second half, never troubled United.
Rashford was a constant threat at the other end. At the moment, there is not a great deal more to his game than being in the right place at the right time, although that is serving him extremely well.
He tends to be low-key outside the area, so it was something different from him when he burst in from the left on his right foot on 12 minutes and cut back in between Hector Bellerin and Gabriel, who tripped him just outside the area.
Then, on 29 minutes, Varela, clipped in a fine cross that Gabriel half-cleared to the back of the box. There was Rashford to hit the ball hard enough that, although Petr Cech got a hand to it, it was past the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Rashford's second goal came three minutes later - another ball in from which he was permitted a clear header, which he buried beyond Cech.
There was real joy at a teenager from Northern Moor in the south of Manchester - the kind of joy that has been rare at United in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
United gave away a soft goal five minutes before the end of the half.
Finally Arsenal got a free-kick outside the box. Ozil picked out Danny Welbeck and the former United striker barely had to jump to head the ball home.
United defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah came on to replace Marcos Rojo after the hour, a debut for the Dutch 18-year-old. Van Gaal says he still has 12 first-team players missing through injury and James Weir, a 20-year-old midfielder from Preston, came on for his debut by the end.
Before then, Herrera had scored United's third, a shot deflected off Laurent Koscielny after the outstanding Juan Mata had played in Rashford to cut the ball back.
Arsenal's second goal came from a Sanchez cross that fell to Welbeck, whose shot was saved but bounced to Ozil, who scored with a volley.
Old Trafford awaited the late push from Arsenal but it was never urgent enough and asked only more questions of Wenger's team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)