By Nik Brumsack at Old Trafford
Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes were dented after they were beaten 3-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
In a captivating fixture, the Gunners found themselves two goals behind just after the half hour courtesy of Premier League debutant Marcus Rashford, who scored twice in the space of three first-half minutes.
The Gunners pulled one back just before the break through Danny Welbeck but Louis Van Gaal’s team restored their two-goal advantage 20 minutes after half-time when Ander Herrera’s heavily-deflected 20-yarder wrongfooted Petr Cech.
Mesut Ozil ensured an interesting finale by lashing home after 70 minutes but, try as they might, Arsène Wenger’s side could not conjure up an equaliser.
This was a thorough test of Arsenal’s title credentials and, with Tottenham Hotspur beating coming from behind to beat Swansea City, may be a game the Gunners look back on with plenty of regret at the end of the season.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsenal’s may have won only three of their previous 23 away Premier League matches against Manchester United, but they still came into this fixture with good recent memories of Old Trafford after last season’s FA Cup quarter-final victory here.
Welbeck had marked his first return to his former club by scoring the winner on that night, and his inclusion from the start here was one of three changes made by Wenger from Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Barcelona.
Gabriel and Theo Walcott also came in, with Per Mertesacker, Olivier Giroud and the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the men to make way.
A long list of injuries had prevented Van Gaal from picking no fewer than 14 players for his side’s Europa League win over FC Midtjylland on Thursday night. The Dutchman was however, able to welcome back the likes of David De Gea, Marcus Rojo and Morgan Schneiderlin for this game. Rashford, who had marked his debut by scoring twice against FC Midtjylland on Thursday, spearheaded the attack.
In this season’s reverse fixture, Arsenal’s fast start had brought three goals in a spellbinding opening 19 minutes. They started the better here too, and should probably have taken the lead after seven minutes, when Nacho Monreal was played through by Ozil. The full back had opened the scoring in last season’s FA Cup tie but was denied by De Gea this time.
The hosts improved as the half wore on and had vociferous appeals for a penalty away when Gabriel scythed down Rashford. The striker fell inside the penalty area but referee Craig Pawson correctly ruled that the foul had been committed just outside the box.
Rashford had enjoyed a superb debut on Thursday night and crowned his Premier League bow by giving his side the lead here too. After Walcott was dispossessed inside the Arsenal half, United quickly switched possession to Guillermo Varela. The full back’s cross was only partially cleared by Gabriel, allowing Rashford to thump home from 12 yards.
Three minutes later, the 18-year-old had his second, rising unchallenged to nod Jesse Lingaard’s cross past the stranded Petr Cech.
Arsenal were rocked but crucially halved the deficit before the break, the impressive Welbeck meeting Ozil’s teasing cross to nod past De Gea.
Arsenal had initially struggled to make inroads after the break, so it made sense to see Giroud replace Walcott just after the hour.
Two minutes later there was a fourth goal of the game - unfortunately for Arsenal, it went the hosts’ way.
Rashford was again heavily involved, racing into the penalty area and picking out Herrera, whose shot took a heavy deflection off Laurent Koscielny to wrongfoot Cech.
Again the defending was disappointing, but again Arsenal responded quickly. Alexis’ cross was met by Welbeck and, though De Gea produced an instinctive save, Ozil was on hand to lash home the rebound.
It looked set for a grandstand finale but, in all honesty, Arsenal never looked like levelling.
With Wednesday’s home match against Swansea City and next weekend’s north London derby on the horizon, Wenger’s men must respond quickly.
Referee: Craig Pawson
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