Arsenal sunk by Rashford brace for Manchester United

Talismanic Mesut Özil could not inspire Arsenal victory

Arsenal lost vital ground in the title race today after being defeated 3-2 by Manchester United, who were inspired by a brace from Premier League debutant Marcus Rashford. Here’s how it happened in real-time.

The Islington outfit knew defeat today would prove detrimental to their hopes of a first Premier League title since 2004, but found themselves outclassed at Old Trafford, and have been left five points adrift of frontrunners Leicester City.

In near-perfect football conditions on a gloriously bright and clear day, the Gunners started the better side. Within five minutes a Mesut Özil flick played Nacho Monreal through, forcing the onrushing David de Gea to react and save well.

Arsenal’s front men continued to threaten and press throughout the game’s opening, with Danny Welbeck looking particularly dangerous. The former United player drew a reckless challenge from Michael Carrick, earning the stand-in centre-back a deserved yellow card. These opening 10 minutes, however, were to be the only period of the game where Arsenal enjoyed any sort of domination. Manchester United went on to seize the advantage, with a goal coming completely against the run of play. Lacklustre Arsenal defending presented man of the moment Marcus Rashford with a golden opportunity from eight yards out. The 18-year-old pounced, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead after 29 minutes.

Three minutes later and United led 2-0. Slick build-up play saw Rashford again presented with a chance in front of goal, and again he took it this time with his head, after Jesse Lingard crossed well.

The game grew increasingly open as the first half went on, with both teams attacking intently. Arsenal’s desperation was masked by calm and collective build-up play that brought them their reward on the 40 minute mark.

It was Welbeck, on his first Premier League start since March, who managed to drag Arsenal back in to contention. The England man placed a strong header past De Gea to make the score 2-1, after Özil had expertly found him unmarked in the area. It was the German’s 18th assist of the Premier League season, leaving him just two shy of Thierry Henry’s record.

Trailing 2-1 at half time, Arsenal may have hoped to assert themselves as the second half got underway. But those hopes were soon dashed.

Desperate for some fresh impetus, Arsene Wenger replaced the struggling Theo Walcott with Olivier Giroud on the hour mark yet the immediate response came from United.

Ander Herrera found himself in space just outside of the penalty area and deliciously curled the ball past Petr Cech in the Arsenal goal, making the score 3-1 with 25 minutes to go.

Arsenal, seemingly intent on proving they could only play devent Football in the moments after conceding, clawed a goal back within four minutes. De Gea could only parry Welbeck’s shot in to the path of Özil, who made no mistake from six yards, making the score 3-2.

Arsenal, knowing a failure to equalise would seriously dent their title chances, became increasingly frantic in their hunt for a third goal. United, however, took control of the game, completely shutting Arsenal out and threatening them on the counter-attack.  The Gunners were forced to resort to long balls that didn’t trouble de Gea or his defenders in the slightest.

The home side continued to look the most likely to score, pinning Arsenal deep in their own half as injury time approached.

The final whistle was met by cheers around Old Trafford as Arsenal’s players trudged off, knowing just how important a defeat this could be.

Louis Van Gaal’s side will look at this as a deserved victory that puts them three points off the top four.

For Arsenal, though, the defeat has capped a miserable few days after their midweek humbling at the hands of Barcelona. They now find themselves trailing league leaders Leicester City, and must accept that their season is hanging in the balance.