DANNY MURPHY: Rashford is turning into Manchester United's leader

DANNY MURPHY: Marcus Rashford is turning into Manchester United’s leader… his maturity on the pitch is now matched off it

  • Marcus Rashford has earned respect across the country for his off-field exploits
  • He’s impressing as much on it, and is Man United’s first name on the team-sheet 
  • Plus, Bruno Fernandes v Thomas Partey will be the key battle in United v Arsenal

Marcus Rashford is front-page news as well as back-page these days. 

If crowds were in, I think he’d get a great reception at any stadium in the country, including Anfield, because his campaign to feed children crosses club allegiances.

I didn’t think it would impact his day job and it certainly hasn’t. He’s the first name on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team sheet, able to play anywhere along the front line and full of confidence after his hat-trick against RB Leipzig last Wednesday.

Marcus Rashford can’t stop impressing on and off pitch, grabbing a hat-trick in his last game

The Man United strike has spent 2020 becoming a household name for his campaigning

He’ll probably play up as a central striker against Arsenal, with Anthony Martial suspended, and Mikel Arteta will know Rashford is looking sharp and confident, banging in the goals.

I’ve admired him as a player since he broke on to the scene in 2016. His maturity on the pitch is now being matched off it and I’m sure he appreciates the good support network he has around him from the club, friends, family and advisers. He seems a level-headed lad.

I particularly like the fact he plays for the team even though he’s got wonderful individual ability, whether dribbling or taking great free-kicks.

Rashford’s maturity away from football is showing through on the pitch as he leads United 

When he lost the ball against Chelsea last weekend, he chased back and ended up giving a foul away with a forward’s challenge. It demonstrated desire and while he only turned 23 on Saturday  and you can’t call him a ready-made team leader yet, he will be.

On a human level, he’s doing something that resonates with people. But it has not taken away his ambition to win for his team.

Arteta’s tactical error 

Managers should always play a system that suits the players available to them. 

Arsenal are better-equipped to using wing-backs than anyone and I don’t think Arteta will repeat the mistake of changing to a back four against Leicester last weekend when he travels to Old Trafford.

The Gunners won the FA Cup in the summer with a back three — beating both Manchester City and Chelsea at Wembley.

Mikel Arteta watched his team lose 1-0 to Leicester in their last Premier League match 

I expect Arsenal to return to the tried and trusted today. The 3-4-3 suits them well. Kieran Tierney is comfortable as the left-sided central defender because he’s good on the ball and has the game in front of him.

He would also have the energy to get forward from wing-back but Arteta is blessed to have Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Bukayo Saka as other options in that position.

Arsenal’s balance is better with a 3-4-3. Up front, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang benefits from having wing-backs behind him. 

In a straight 4-3-3, he has more defensive responsibility, which is not his forte. Maitland-Niles creates space for him and allows the forward to get into the penalty area where he’s such a fine finisher.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has only scored once this season and could benefit from a switch

I don’t think Granit Xhaka benefits from a 4-3-3, either. It means he has to leave his comfort zone and drift wider than he’d like. 

He’s a good, technical footballer but hasn’t really got the legs, so he’s much more dependable in a midfield two alongside either new signing Thomas Partey or Dani Ceballos.

I’ve seen it suggested Aubameyang should have a stint at centre- forward to get back on the goal trail because he hasn’t scored a league goal signing his new contract. I disagree, I think coming in from the left and bending those finishes is perfect for him.

Key match-up: Bruno Fernandes v Partey

It’s been a good response by United to that thumping embarrassment against Tottenham. 

Good wins away at Newcastle and PSG and clean sheets against Chelsea and RB Leipzig suggests they are finding the balance between staying solid and carrying a goal threat.

Bruno Fernandes is the danger man. His pass against Leipzig for Rashford’s first goal was fantastic and I’m sure Arteta will give his new £45million signing Partey the responsibility of keeping Fernandes quiet.

Bruno Fernandes’ battle with Arsenal’s Thomas Partey could be key as Arsenal face United 

I watched Partey at Atletico Madrid, he’s disciplined and you can tell he’s been coached by Diego Simeone. Besides being a good passer, he senses danger when the opposition is moving forward.

United will have plenty of the ball this afternoon and Arsenal will want to condense the space. They know the deeper Bruno goes, the less threat he is to Bernd Leno in their goal. Partey is key figure in their strategy.

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