EPL

Rashford's diminishing returns sum up Manchester United's fading title threat

By Sports Desk January 30, 2021

Marcus Rashford took just too long with his one big chance against Arsenal.

By the time he had controlled Luke Shaw's cross and turned back behind Cedric Soares, goalkeeper Bernd Leno had closed his route to goal. Rashford turned, played it backwards, and the danger was gone.

That first-half moment and a later shot blasted into the side-netting were the sum total of Rashford's threatening moments in Saturday's goalless Premier League draw at the Emirates Stadium, the third game in United's previous four that they have failed to win.

Like the 0-0 draw at Liverpool two weeks ago, there was a feeling United should have done much more to exploit their opponents' vulnerable state, with Mikel Arteta unable to call upon Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, his three most likely match-winners.

Like that stalemate at Anfield, Rashford failed to score, assist a goal or create a chance. Indeed, his assist for Paul Pogba's winning volley at Burnley is the only time Rashford has been directly involved in a goal in his past six league games. It's the longest time he has gone without a top-flight goal this season. The England forward has managed just one shot in target in his past five league games, so this is not just a case of an unfortunate dry spell against heroic goalkeeping.

Of course, Rashford scored one and set up another in the 3-2 FA Cup win over Jurgen Klopp's side, but that was a short reprieve from his recent rut. In league football lately, he has been reflective of Red Devils performances: sluggish, uninspired, inadequate.

Rashford is not alone in having lost his spark. A generally tepid encounter at the Emirates, reminiscent of past battles between these teams in name only, was another in which Bruno Fernandes could not influence the attack, where Edinson Cavani had three touches in the Arsenal penalty area and Luke Shaw, with three chances created, was the visitors' most enterprising attacking outlet.

While he attempted eight dribbles, the most he has tried in a league game since the win over Aston Villa on January 1, two of them were rather desperate runs through the middle of an Arsenal defensive pair, with little apparent forethought. Perhaps he thought too much when it came to distribution: for the second time in three league outings, he played one pass into the opposition penalty area. He has not found a team-mate with a cross since the 3-2 win at Southampton on November 29.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Rashford with Mason Greenwood 10 minutes from time, and he seemed neither put out nor relieved to be given a break. He was simply... there, just on the other side of the touchline.

The United manager might be pleased with a second successive away game against a big-six side in which they have neither lost nor conceded a goal, helping them to a club-record 18-match unbeaten run on their travels. As with the Liverpool trip, they also had a clear chance to win, Cavani's late, twisting volley just missing the bottom-right corner of Bernd Leno's net.

Yet they have taken only one point from games against bottom-club Sheffield United and eighth-place Arsenal in a week in which Manchester City have opened up a three-point gap at the top of the table, with a game in hand. They've also failed to score a goal in five league games in a row against that big-six contingent.

Their title aspirations are beginning to look like Rashford's recent use of a football: worryingly misplaced.

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