Rashford rolls back the years as Ten Hag's Antony call pays off

·3-min read

For Erik ten Hag, there was never any doubt. Just three days after arriving from Ajax, and with only two training sessions with his new team-mates under his belt, the Manchester United boss felt Antony was ready to be unleashed in Sunday's meeting with Arsenal.

"He knows the style we want to play and what we expect and demand," Ten Hag, who coached Antony at Ajax in the previous two campaigns, told Sky Sports ahead of United's 2-1 victory. "He can particularly be an offensive threat with his speed in one-on-ones."

The tricky winger this week became United's second-most expensive signing ever at an initial £81.3million (€95m) – behind only the £89m paid for Paul Pogba – and made an instant impact with his goalscoring display against a previously perfect Gunners side.

Antony's well-taken strike after 35 minutes at Old Trafford gave United the lead in a game they had otherwise been second best in, with Arsenal – and Gabriel Jesus in particular – looking very dangerous in an attacking sense either side of that opener.

One of the first players to congratulate Antony was fellow attacker Marcus Rashford, who himself netted on his debut for United and also his first appearance in the Premier League, against Arsenal of all sides in a 3-2 home win six-and-a-half years ago.

And while Antony made a big impression on his United bow, this victory belonged to Rashford. The England international assisted the opener and then scored two of his own goals after Bukayo Saka had deservedly levelled for Arsenal in the second period.

Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal
Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal

It meant Rashford both scored and assisted in a Premier League game for the first time since October 2020 – and at the perfect time, too, with some calling for the versatile forward to make way from the side.

Selecting both Rashford and Antony was a big call from Ten Hag against an Arsenal side that boasted five wins from five prior to Sunday's contest at Old Trafford, the Dutchman changing a winning formula after three victories on the spin with the same XI.

At 22 years and 192 days, Antony became the youngest Brazilian player to score on his Premier League debut, and the first player from the South American country to net on his first appearance for United.

The ninth Brazilian to put on the famous United strip, Antony not only found the net but also lit up Old Trafford with some trademark Samba skills, the highlight being some neat footwork to beat two Arsenal players when seemingly going nowhere and helping to create a big chance for Christian Eriksen.

He played just short of an hour before being replaced by Cristiano Ronaldo – out of United's starting line-up for a fourth game running – and departed with the most shots of any player (three), the highest xG (0.32) and having attempted the joint-most dribbles (seven).
 
It was an inspired call from Ten Hag, who three weeks on from his appointment being questioned by some high-profile names following defeats to Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford, is now instead being hailed as a managerial magician.

Time will tell on that front, of course, but the signs in wins over Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester City and now Arsenal have been hugely encouraging.

Despite a first loss since back-to-back defeats derailed their hopes of Champions League football in the final fortnight of last season, Arsenal remain top of the embryonic table and if not for some contentious calls may well have come away with another victory.

VAR was again at the centre of controversy as a Gabriel Martinelli goal was ruled out at 0-0 after referee Paul Tierney, having being instructed to check the pitchside monitor, adjudged Martin Odegaard had fouled Eriksen in the build-up.

But thanks to Antony and Rashford, this day belonged to United. For the first time in 17 months, they have won four league games in a row and finally have momentum on their side in what is shaping up to be a promising future under Ten Hag.