MANCHESTER // Arsene Wenger's first Premier League title was facilitated by a teenage striker. A fourth, and probably last, was rendered less likely by another.
Marcus Rashford was a few months old when Nicolas Anelka was the electric apprentice who sped to prominence in 1998. Eighteen years later, the Manchester United wunderkind has made a swifter journey from anonymity to ubiquity.
He scored four goals in three days and two games. Wenger, the great advocate of youth, was tormented by a teenager. Arsenal were unable to cope with an unknown.
The league debutant brought a sense of novelty to a day when Arsenal revealed familiar flaws. There was a lack of leadership, a capacity to concede in calamitous fashion, an opportunity missed. Fragility forms part of their psyche yet they played with an unwarranted complacency. If they will never get a better chance to win the title again under Wenger, nor will they arrive at Old Trafford as such favourites. Previous Arsenal teams have lost to some battle-hardened United sides. This one was defeated by a crèche.
By the end, Louis van Gaal, deprived of 12 injured players, had handed out a fifth debut in a week. James Weir was on in midfield. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, with plenty of enthusiasm but no positional sense, was producing an erratic impression of a left-back. United’s two central defenders, Michael Carrick and Daley Blind, were men with the skill-sets of midfielders. Arsenal still could not capitalise.
It made for an anarchic occasion. Even Van Gaal, that great advocate of order, contributed. One who rarely rises to his feet harangued fourth official Mike Dean about what he perceived was Arsenal's penchant for going to ground too easily, mimicking it in a melodramatic tumble in his technical area. Supporters who may have arrived prepared to call for his head instead chorused his name.
Chaos reigned, especially in the Arsenal defence. Per Mertesacker was dropped after a harrowing evening against the world’s best player, Lionel Messi. Gabriel replaced him, to endure a fraught afternoon against one who, until recently, was starring for United’s Under 18s.
Rashford’s promotion owed much to injuries, to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, but also to Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini and Will Keane. If he was about the sixth-choice striker until recently, he seems to have arrived in the first team fully formed. He looks a mini-Martial, equipped with similar speed and a willingness to trick defenders, and two first-time finishes were evidence of a striking instinct that bodes well.
“He could be a very positive surprise for Manchester United,” Wenger said.
Barely two hours into his United career, Rashford had scored as many goals as Radamel Falcao mustered in his ill-fated spell at Old Trafford. The Colombian’s four strikes came at a combined cost of £20 million (Dh102m) in loan fee and wages. Rashford’s have been rather cheaper.
There is a cautionary tale in the shape of the last United youth product to make such a startling start to his first-team career. Federico Macheda is now an unused substitute for Cardiff City. Yet if he seemed an opportunistic finisher, Rashford showed evidence of greater ability.
“The player who was surprising talent-wise was Rashford,” Wenger said. “The timing and intelligence of his movement was great.” He displayed a trick during a solo burst that led to Ander Herrera’s decisive third goal.
There were three goals from products of the local Fletcher Moss club with Danny Welbeck, once another teenager to strike for United, scoring against them again. It brought Mesut Ozil’s 18th assist of the season. He is closing in on an individual record, but the collective honours are less likely to end up at the Emirates. This was a snapshot why.
Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
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