It might ignore some of the peculiar nuances in arguments over Ronaldo’s role on this team, on both sides of the warring houses, and it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of that insane 3-2 victory over Mikel’s Arsenal. Arteta. in what was Michael Carrick’s last game as a goalkeeper and possibly his last night as a United employee, but it’s a debate that will continue. And ultimately, one person’s opinion matters.
Can Ronaldo work in Ralf Rangnick’s ultra-intense gegenpressing system? The interim United manager will have to judge from what he sees, and what he’s seen from his seat in the directors’ lodge is what Old Trafford regulars have watched throughout the season. : a United performance marked by evenly distributed moments of brilliance and incompetence, but a game ultimately won by Ronaldo’s goals.
A game that was once the flagship of English football has frayed a bit in recent years, but what this meeting of two modern rivals lacked in quality it made up for in entertainment. Arsenal were the best team in points, definitely the second in the others. The same was true for United. Either could have won it on the scales of the game. The team with Ronaldo ending their chances did.
The two goals to make the difference between victory and loss weren’t spectacular – a tap-in and a penalty, in fact – but the numbers behind them are. It was his 800th and 801st career career for club and country. There are plenty of questions about the move to bring him back, but he continues to answer them often being the one who makes the ultimate difference.
Even before kick-off, and on the eve of a bold new start for one of these clubs, this game has struggled to escape its historic past. Itinerant Arsenal fans enjoyed a refrain of ‘We won the league in Manchester’, recalling a time when Smith Rowe was barely out of his Pampers.
Around the same time, part of Stretford End unfurled a banner reading “STANDARDS” under pictures of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson. But then, such is the heady cocktail of angst and nostalgia at United these days, there was also a tribute to the club legend who has been held ultimately responsible for those standards that have slipped in recent times. .
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was greeted with his own banner draped across Stretford End on this first outing at Old Trafford since leaving, proving as if there is real doubt his legend will live on for good reason. And the tributes didn’t end there either, as United fell behind in the calamitous manner that defined the Norwegian’s final days.
It was the worst goal United have conceded in, say, two weeks, the ninth in a row in the league at Old Trafford with no response on the other end in fact, a first in the Premier League era. It happened when, as he tried to defend an Arsenal corner, the much-maligned Fred stepped on De Gea’s ankle, leaving his injured goalkeeper on the ground.
As United failed to clear their lines properly and De Gea remained on the ground, Smith Rowe laced the ball from the edge of the area into an unguarded net. Referee Martin Atkinson hadn’t whistled before the ball crossed the line. TV reruns confirmed that, as De Gea was knocked down by his own teammate, Atkinson had no reason to do so. The goal would hold.
United, led by De Gea, argued their case to no avail. Rangnick probably wondered what he got himself into, not just then, but for the majority of a first half where the players he had to mold and turn into top four contenders looked like. everything except. Even at worst under Solskjaer, this team has proven that they can score a goal from scratch.
Much has been said and written about Rangnick’s principles and his belief that a team is at its peak immediately after regaining possession. There were eight seconds between Harry Maguire’s interception of a stray clearance from Ben White and the arrival of Bruno Fernandes past Aaron Ramsdale to equalize, with sublime footwork from Jadon Sancho and a back heel assist from Fred in between.
United emerged for the second half with more determination and Ronaldo, who had spent much of the first half shooting from inopportune positions, began to improve his decision-making. He had already approached shortly after the restart when, two minutes later, he found space inside the six-yard penalty area to convert Marcus Rashford’s low cross for his 800th goal in career.
Arsenal were level almost immediately, with Gabriel Martinelli found in acres of space on the right, with enough free time to prepare Martin Odegaard for a low, pierced shot that narrowly avoids hitting teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and crawled inside the far post, just out of De Gea’s desperate reach.
In one of the recurring themes of the night, Odegaard went from hero to zero, conceding a penalty with a reckless challenge on Fred, equally high and low. Fernandes had taken on kicking duties so far this season, but not anymore. Ronaldo took the ball, put it on the ground and hit it straight and hard in the middle of Ramsdale’s goal. Ronaldo would not be denied. He rarely is, Ralf.