Man United vs Arsenal: Five things we learned as Marcus Rashford steals limelight after Antony’s debut goal

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Manchester United made it four wins in a row and dealt Arsenal a first Premier League defeat of the season on Sunday evening.

The first big moment of drama came as Gabriel Martinelli raced clear on a counter-attack to beat David de Gea, but the goal was chalked off after a pitchside review for a perceived foul on Christian Eriksen.

The first strike which stood came at the other end of the pitch as Marcus Rashford freed Antony and the debutant placed a textbook finish into the corner. That was the end of the scoring for the first half but there was far more to enjoy after the break.

First Bukayo Saka netted a deserved equaliser from close range, but Rashford then twice breached the Gunners’ back line on counter-attacks, firstly finishing on the run and then sweeping home after Eriksen broke clear and squared.

Here are five things we learned from the game at Old Trafford.

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Antony thrown straight in by Ten Hag

Casemiro has had to bide his time and Malacia was another who needed a result or two to go against the Red Devils before coming into the team, but Antony had no such waits.

The manager knows him well, of course, and presumably had a familiar job to do from their time together in Amsterdam, but it was still a sizeable call to give the Brazilian an immediate start against one of the Premier League’s high-fliers.

He made an eventful start with a few moments of skill and one wild shot miles off-target, but just over half an hour into his debut came the moment the home fans wanted: played in one-on-one, he opened himself up and curled a fine finish inside the far corner for the game’s first (legitimate) goal.

Two long-range attempted efforts gave way to a much quieter second half and he was replaced before the hour mark, but both manager and fans will doubtless see optimism levels mightly boosted by the clean finish and willingness off the ball.

Counter crisis

Arsenal’s own lineup was boosted by the presence of Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko after injury issues, but they struggled to find the same fluidity in their play – in the final third in particular – that they had done in previous matches this season.

It has to be pointed out that this is the first time the Gunners have faced a team likely to finish in the top half, something which seems to have been rather overlooked amid the excitement at them putting together a 100 percent start.

As such, it’s no surprise that they were put under rather more pressure in the first half than they have been used to and perhaps the defeat will serve as a reminder that they are still some distance from the finished product.

Big gaps in midfield, far too easily breached on the counter-attack and a lack of recovery pace on show in defence meant they were left exposed far too often – while not being clinical at the other end ensured a first defeat of the season.

Silent Sancho but Rashford roars

United have several forward options to pick from now, though Cristiano Ronaldo remains a non-impact sub and Anthony Martial is still sidelined. However, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford remain in the mix with Ten Hag – albeit with very different impacts on this game.

Indeed, Sancho was largely a non-entity in terms of attacking output, having to watch on as most attacks built down the opposite flank and then spending a lot of time fruitlessly chasing back against Saka after the first half-hour.

By contrast, Rashford started as the No9 again and once more had a telling impact: two goals and an assist, lots of neat interplay when United tried to counter from deep but, most of all, having the speed and willingness to run in behind to provide an out-ball for Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes.

The latter’s excellent pass allowed Rashford to race clear and finish in a similar style of goal to his effort against Liverpool, though a late hamstring issue will be a bit of a worry as European action starts up.

Fernandes rediscovers key role

There’s no question that Bruno Fernandes was both incredibly important for United after signing, and very much marginalised in that importance after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived. He has not always hit top gear this season either, but against Arsenal his best traits were on show with frequency.

The defence-splitting pass for Rashford’s first was impeccable in both weight and timing, while he also got involved in plenty of midfield battles, broke up a few moments of danger with his propensity to go to ground and perhaps had an influence on the referee’s decision to overturn Martinelli’s early strike – all factors which benefitted United.

Moving him right side, briefly, in the second half was an interesting wrinkle from Ten Hag, who wanted Fred as the combative ball-winner and carrier in central zones for that period, and Fernandes could easily have added another assist or two to his name later on as gaps appeared.

Top end

Six games in, Arsenal remain top of the table so there won’t be any hand-wringing, especially as next up domestically is winless Everton after facing Zurich in the Europa League.

But in the relentless race for top-four spots – assuming that’s the north London club’s ambition this term – defeats against perceived rivals are going to hurt. They will also keep the questions coming about how good or otherwise this side actually is, until they can win these tougher encounters.

So far, there’s a lack of evidence for it.

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United though are definitely trending up: four wins on the bounce, a much stronger starting back four and now more goals to put into the team by the looks of things, even if Ronaldo isn’t yet included in that group, much to his obvious frustration in the closing stages.

More good work on show for Ten Hag, and more expectation will come with it too.

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