'Classic' United back to good Ole days

Solskjaer hails 'massive step forward' after win over Arsenal, tips Sanchez to improve

Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez takes the ball around Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech before scoring the opening goal in the 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round victory at the Emirates Stadium on Friday.
Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez takes the ball around Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech before scoring the opening goal in the 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round victory at the Emirates Stadium on Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • By now, it has become a familiar sight: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hugging his staff, applauding his players and celebrating a goal.

Quick, incisive football, willing to take on anyone and, up till now, always coming out on top.

The caretaker manager continues to revive Manchester United in spectacular fashion after Friday's 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round win at Arsenal.

Once again, he set the right mood. Once again, he got the tactics right. Once again, he got his starting line-up and substitutions right.

This was their eighth straight win since the Norwegian was appointed and the case for him taking over permanently is building, particularly now his restorative qualities appear to stretch to Alexis Sanchez, who scored the opening goal on his return to his former club.

A lesser team would have wilted in the face of some concerted pressure from the Gunners.

  • 8

  • Consecutive wins Manchester United have registered in all competitions for the first time since January 2017.

But United have rejuvenated, epitomised by the transformation of Victor Lindelof in the heart of defence, Paul Pogba in midfield and the deadly attacking trio of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

Solskjaer was once part of the best counter-attacking side in English football. He seems to be building the modern team the same way and United's second and third goals, converted by Lingard and Martial, were reminders of the past when former manager Alex Ferguson led the team into battle with Arsenal.

Solskjaer was proud of his team's "classic" display, reminiscent of the good old days.

"I've had a (selection) headache since I came because the squad is full of good players," he said.

"Today, we looked more like a proper team. We looked more structured. We'd worked hard at defending and counter-attacking.

"Counter-attacking is classic Manchester United - Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Park Ji-sung - we've scored so many at Arsenal over the years.

"It was a massive step forward today. At Tottenham, we hung in and (goalkeeper) David de Gea saved us but, today, our structure was miles better."

On Friday's evidence, Solskjaer seems to have the handy managerial knack of knowing exactly when to shuffle his plethora of attacking options. In-form Rashford and Martial were kept on the bench for 72 minutes, with Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku starting out wide and Lingard in the centre.

Any eyebrows raised at his decision to field striker Lukaku on the right were soon lowered. The Belgian was exceptional, creating both goals scored by Sanchez and Lingard in the first half.

When Arsenal started to fight back late after the break, in came the speedy Rashford and Martial with the aim of exploiting the space left behind in defence when the Gunners tried to go forward.

The counter-attacking plan worked a treat, with Martial sealing the win in the 82nd minute.

And Solskjaer insists Sanchez can only improve after scoring on his Arsenal return.

He said: "Every player, the more confident you get, the more you want to get on the pitch and train and work on yourself and you trust yourself. He has been injured lately so it was great to see him get 65-70 minutes tonight and he can only improve and I think he knows that himself."

Arsenal's loss was made more painful with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Laurent Koscielny joining the injury list.

"They were clinical today," said Arsenal manager Unai Emery.

"We played against a United side in their best moment of the season and they have a lot of players to make a difference."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 27, 2019, with the headline ''Classic' United back to good Ole days'. Subscribe