As Man United go man-to-man on Arsenal, boy wonder Marcus Rashford is the hero

A pulsating game was punctuated with symbolism and tactical talking points

Manchester United, Marcus Rashford

Rashford after scoring his second. Picture by: Nigel French / EMPICS Sport

It was Roy of the Rovers stuff at Old Trafford as Marcus Rashford scored a brace to put Manchester United within three points of the Top 4 and dented Arsenal's title challenge in one fell swoop. 

Days after the 18-year-old scored a double on his debut in the 5-1 victory over FC Midtjylland on Thursday's Europa League, he again scored twice this afternoon as he extends a blistering start to his senior career.

He gave United the lead on 29 minutes when he swept in the ball after it had diverted off Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny and into his path.

Three minutes later, Rashford again got in the right position as he headed past Petr Cech to make it 2-0.

Arsenal did pull one back when Danny Welbeck headed in Mesut Ozil's free-kick.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (centre) is replaced by team-mate Adnan Januzaj (left) during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture by: Martin Rickett / PA Wire/Press Association Images

But United stretched their lead again in the second half when Rashford pulled his pass back for Ander Herrera to fire in a deflected shot from outside the box.

Arsenal pulled one back again as Ozil thrust in a rebound after David De Gea had saved a Welbeck effort.

But it wasn't enough as Arsenal stay five points behind leaders Leicester City and three behind Tottenham, who defeated Swansea 2-1 this afternoon.

Man to man midfield 

Manchester United had a central defence composed of midfielders in the shape of Michael Carrick and Daley Blind, but it was the actual midfield battle further forward which was fascinating to watch.

One little throw of the head over the shoulders from Man United attacking midfielder Juan Mata 18 minutes in to lock his vision on Francis Coquelin was one sure-fire and obvious signal of intent from a player more well-known for what he does with the ball than without.

 

Shadowing Arsenal holder Coquelin in central areas, this was a pattern replicated across the engine room when Man United were out of possession with Ander Herrera tracking Aaron Ramsey and Morgan Schneiderlin closest to Mesut Ozil.

It was a risk to go man-for-man against an Arsenal capable of fluidity but it worked in the first half and in the second.

Conversely Arsenal lacked that organisation in midfield defensively as seen in the first goal Rashford goal as the ball deflected off Laurent Koscielny and landed in acres of space in the box for Old Trafford's new found hero to slot home. The same occurred when Rashford pulled it back for Herrera to fire in United's third from the edge of the box (via a deflection) with no Arsenal player tracking the run.

 

 

 Symbolism

In a difficult season, Man United have found themselves a new hero in Rashford, who has shown off a habit of finding himself in the right space at the right time.

When he was substituted off in the second half after a fine day's work, it was Adnan Januzaj that came on and there was symbolism and a warning wrapped together in that moment.

In the difficult David Moyes season, Januzaj was one of the few rays of hope for United fans but has slipped from the pedestal he was being placed on.

Rashford will get plenty of attention now after his four goals in two games but Januzaj will serve as a warning of how a career can derail after a sensational start.

It's a lesson the 18-year-old should heed while enjoying a precocious beginning to life as the spearhead of "Louis' Lads".