Saturday, November 26, 2022

Man United 3-1 Arsenal: Rashford Nets A Brace And Antony Scores On Debut As The Red Devils Beat Gunners To End Arteta’s Men Perfect Start

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Two clubs that defined the Premier League’s past can look ahead to promising futures, even if only one was left celebrating victory. It will always feel too early to claim that a Manchester United side in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era have turned a corner but this 3-1 victory over Arsenal, won by Marcus Rashford’s brace on the break followed a debut goal from Antony, is the latest piece of evidence that their horror start to the season is behind them.

It was only a fortnight ago that Erik ten Hag’s side were bottom of the league but this fourth consecutive win came against the side at the top.

Arsenal can take heart, even after losing their perfect record. Still sitting at the summit at this early stage, this will temper talk of a title challenge, but there was enough evidence here to suggest that Mikel Arteta’s side will compete for a top-four place at least.

They were the better side for spells, and had Gabriel Martinelli’s early goal stood, the afternoon may have taken on an entirely different complexion. When Bukayo Saka equalised, they looked likeliest to go on and win. Yet in an impressive final half-hour by United, inspired by the excellent Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen, Arsenal were undressed on the counter and defeated.

It has become commonplace to reminisce about this fixture’s history when these two clubs meet but, for the first time in a while, its present felt far more relevant. Scan down their schedule so far and this was arguably the first real test that Arsenal have faced and an examination of the early pacesetters’ credentials. A fourth straight victory for United, meanwhile, would add credence to the belief that this is the start of a new beginning at Old Trafford and not another false dawn.

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The opening stages took on an unexpected dynamic. United dominated possession, playing with confidence deep in Arsenal territory, but this left them exposed to the counter-attack.

Arteta and his players looked perfectly happy to play along with this approach, especially in the moments leading up to what they thought would be the opener. Bukayo Saka’s through ball was sublime. Martinelli’s finish was composed.

Had Martin Odegaard won the ball from Christian Eriksen with more subtlety at the start of the move, the goal may have stood.

On a weekend of contentious calls, decisions have gone against teams for less, and Odegaard could have few complaints when referee Paul Tierney reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor and found that he had unfairly barged into Eriksen.

Arsenal responded well, Martinelli in particular. Twice he tested David de Gea’s reactions at his near post: first with a low drive that De Gea beat away with his legs, then with a header that required the type of acrobatics we have come to expect from the United goalkeeper over the years.

Arsenal were now the ones on top but, once again, the team playing on the counter-attack proved more dangerous. Antony had something of a quiet debut up until that point and, moments before opening his account, performed the sort of fancy footwork which he has become known for, only to little effect.

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United were struggling to break in behind Arsenal until a smart Eriksen pass from inside his own half found Fernandes. Tierney, to his credit, played advantage when Fernandes was felled by Albert Sambi Lokonga, allowing for Jadon Sancho and Rashford to combine, slotting Antony through one-on-one down the right.

The second-most expensive acquisition in United’s history is somewhat one-footed, and the finish with his left was telegraphed, but still beat Aaron Ramsdale.

A long, joyous celebration filled with badge-beating and sticking the ball up his shirt followed, directly in front of the visiting supporters. That earned him a ticking off from Tierney – not the only bit of celebration policing involving Arsenal of late – but given the circumstances, it seemed perfectly understandable.

It would be Antony’s last meaningful contribution before being replaced by Cristiano Ronaldo not far off the hour mark. That was United’s first change and a curious one because by that point, Arsenal were threatening an equaliser.

Saka had already gone close, shooting across the face of goal after Odegaard had skewed an even better chance. When the Arsenal winger levelled, pouncing on a loose ball in the box to fire through Lisandro Martinez’s legs, United were lacking the control that Casemiro – still among the substitutes – would provide.

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Ten Hag called for Fred instead of arguably the most accomplished holding midfielder in world football and, in fairness, it worked.

United were back in front inside six minutes from a devastatingly simple move that exposed Arsenal’s high line. All it took was one Fernandes through ball, threaded between Arteta’s retreating centre-halves, and Rashford was bearing down on Ramsdale. Like with his decisive goal against Liverpool, it was the type of opportunity that he has regularly spurned over the past 18 months but that he now seems to put away with aplomb.

It was a similar story for the third, only this time Rashford’s finish was even more straightforward, and Arsenal’s line was made to look even more vulnerable.

After some dogged work on the halfway line by Ronaldo of all people, a simple punt in behind by Fernandes set Eriksen away. Though still a long way from goal, Rashford ran with him in support and was on hand for a simple tap-in once the Dane had committed Ramsdale to come out of his goal.

The clock on the Old Trafford scoreboard stopped seconds after the ball hit the net for the third, not restarting again for another 10 minutes: fitting, perhaps, on a day when United rolled back the years.

Photo Credit: Getty

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