Wenger and LVG in awe of brilliant Rashford
Manchester United 3 Arsenal 2
Marcus Rashford achieved the near-impossible at Old Trafford yesterday by uniting touchline adversaries Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger in appreciation of his debut double.
The 18-year-old built on his midweek brace against FC Midtylland with the first two goals as his side put a huge dent in the Gunners’ Premier League title aspirations with a 3-2 win.
The teenager struck twice in three minutes in the first half before former United striker Danny Welbeck pulled one goal back for Arsenal.
Rashford then set up Ander Herrera for United’s third before Mesut Ozil reduced the deficit.
For a clash with such gladatorial history - the pressure got to Van Gaal when he threw himself to the turf in protest at an alleged dive by Alexis Sanchez in the second half - it ranks as another in Rashford’s sky-rocketing list of recent achievements.
Wenger admitted: “The player who was surprising for me talent-wise was Rashford because of the timing of his movement and his intelligence.
“His movement in the box was great and he could be a very positive surprise for Manchester United on what I’ve seen today.”
Van Gaal paid tribute to Rashford, who lashed home United’s opener in the 29th minute then headed a superb second just two minutes later, as well as setting up the decisive third for Ander Herrera.
The Dutchman said Rashford had surprised him by producing an even better performance than that which swept aside the Danes in midweek - but added a note of caution that his biggest tests are still to come.
Van Gaal said: “I could imagine what he did in the first game because he is a striker so he is coming into the situation to score goals.
“The first match is always good because he can do the things that he thinks he wants to do, but in the second match he has to do what the manager wants him to do and he did it fantastically.
“I think his performance was better than the first match. Normally the first matches a debutant plays are good, but it is the consistency - he has to show it in the third, fourth, fifth match. But what he showed in his second match is special, I think.”
Despite singling out Rashford for special praise, Wenger’s magnanimity did not extend to the rest of the United line-up, with the Gunners boss refuting the suggestion that his team had been beaten by a team bursting with youth and inexperience.
Wenger added: “Let’s not go overboard - they still had a few millions on the pitch today, from De Gea to the whole of the midfield. They spent a lot of money on (Memphis) Depay - you cannot call him a player from the academy.”
Wenger admitted the defeat had dealt his side a major blow in their fight for the title but maintained the Gunners are still very much in the running as they head into Wednesday’s game against Swansea five points adrift of Leicester.
“We dropped three important points today but we have to show we are up for the fight and bounce back on Wednesday night.
“We have to not feel sorry for ourselves. Mathematically, what it means, we will only know at the end of the season.”
Yesterday’s team selection may have been largely out of necessity with a dozen senior players unavailable but the Dutchman threw three youngsters in for league debuts.
Tim Fosu-Mensah, 18, and James Weir, 20, were brought on as substitutes and with Adnan Januzaj, 21, Memphis Depay, 22, and Jesse Lingard, 23, all involved, United fans saw a glimpse of a brighter future for the first time since Alex Ferguson retired three years ago.
As Michael Carrick said, a third win in seven days, with 11 goals scored, has given the side new confidence going into games against Watford and West Bromwich Albion.
United are also through to a home FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham United and play arch-rivals Liverpool in the last 16 of the Europa League.
But will it be enough to save Van Gaal?
The British media have reported that United have been in touch with Jose Mourinho’s representatives about succeeding him.
The United board are split over appointing Mourinho, adding that it wants to put a director of football in place for the first time.
While it seems highly unlikely that Van Gaal’s squad can make up a 12-point gap to win the Premier League, they are only three points behind Manchester City in the chase for a Champions League place, which could also be achieved by winning the Europa League.