Rashford stars again as Arsenal's title hopes fade
While a star in Rashford is born, Arsenal's title dream is almost certainly dying
MAN UNITED 3
(Marcus Rashford 29, 32, Ander Herrera 65)
(Danny Welbeck 40, Mesut Oezil 69)
In the end, the boys played like men and the men played like traumatised toddlers.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford showed enough to suggest he will go far. Arsenal showed enough to suggest they are going nowhere.
The teenage sensation was playing youth football before Christmas. After scoring a double against the Gunners last night, he's playing in the clouds.
He's found the net four times in three days. If only Arsenal's forlorn forwards displayed anything like the 18-year-old's tenacity.
While a star was born, a title dream was almost certainly dying.
The Gunners can't win the title now, not like this. It's not just the five-point gap at the top. It's the deeply entrenched inability to win when it truly matters.
Defeat is in Arsenal's DNA. They are strawberry artists that bruise far too easily.
United had half a first team, but battled twice as hard for victory.
Rashford finished them off, but the unavoidable reality is Arsenal beat themselves.
As night follows day, there are three irrefutable rules when it comes to the Gunners.
First, if they come within a sniff of the English Premier League title, they fold faster than an over-eager laundry worker.
Second, irrespective of recent history, form or injuries, the Gunners treat trips to Old Trafford like a cavity-ridden crybaby waiting for the dentist's drill.
And finally, Theo Walcott vanishes faster than the Scarlet Pimpernel whenever he's called upon to deliver in a high-stakes game.
All three happened last night.
Arsenal shoved speedsters across their forward line, hoping for a pinball-like panic in the makeshift United defence.
But it didn't happen. Walcott, the nominal striker, disappeared shortly after kick-off. Alexis Sanchez struggled again to shake off his ring rustiness and Danny Welbeck was shunted out wide.
As a result, Arsenal were somewhere between subdued and anonymous, relying on Mesut Oezil to conjure a magic trick on behalf of his dozing assistants.
Wenger had collected a paltry three victories in 19 attempts at Old Trafford and the first half suggested that embarrassing record was unlikely to improve.
Arsenal were largely stifled, cautious and, occasionally, clueless.
In essence, they froze.
Indeed, United's goals demonstrated an instinctive, youthful desire to attack that was entirely absent from Wenger's plodders.
The team filled with kids, reserves and improvised defenders - Michael Carrick played at centre back for heaven's sake - deservedly took the lead.
In many ways, Rashford displayed the qualities still lacking in Arsenal's game. He's fast, fearless and decisive, with a welcome dash of cockiness thrown in.
In the 29th minute, Guilermo Varela wriggled free on the right to hook a cross towards the box. Gabriel Paulista appeared to dance on a carpet of marbles as he made a mess of the clearance and the ball fell to the kid who was playing as a No. 10 for United's Under-21s just before Christmas.
Rashford found the top corner with the ease of an ageing veteran knocking one in for fun in an exhibition game.
His second goal was even better, coming just two minutes and 45 seconds after the first. Jesse Lingard was somehow allowed to retrieve the ball on the right side of the box after an initial move had broken down. His scooped cross was decent, but Rashford's deft header into the far corner was exquisite.
Ghosting between Arsenal's centre backs, the EPL debutant left his AWOL markers looking like kids.
In normal circumstances, the contest would have been over.
But, in a season that has resembled the plot outline of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the erratic madness endured.
Any semblance of professional defending gave way to a bizarre, goal ping-pong, with both teams taking turns to score past non-existent defences.
Welbeck glanced home a free header before half-time. Rashford earned himself an assist in the 65th minute, when his slipped pass found Ander Herrera. The midfielder's shot was deflected past Petr Cech by Laurent Koscielny.
Five minutes later, Oezil ended a goalmouth scramble by smashing his effort into the ground and into the unguarded net.
Shortly after, Louis van Gaal threw himself to the floor on the touchline, mimicking an alleged dive on the pitch. Old Trafford rewarded him with a surreal standing ovation.
It was that sort of day.
As the contest drifted towards United's inevitable triumph, the cameras found a beaming Rashford.
The day belonged to the rising star. But, in the opposite dugout, another appeared to be in decline.
Rashford will never forget this game. Nor will Wenger. The beginning of one EPL career could be the slow death of another.
Marcus Rashford heads in his fourth goal in two games for the Red Devils
This is my first game in the Premier League, so it has obviously been amazing. To score two is a bonus, so hopefully I can just carry it on.
— Man United’s Marcus Rashford