Cristiano Ronaldo reached 800 career goals as his brace secured Manchester United a much-needed victory against Arsenal as interim manager Ralf Rangnick saw his new side triumph from the stands.
A lot has changed at Old Trafford since their last home game 26 days ago, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after that loss to Manchester City was compounded by a shocking defeat at Watford.
United coach Michael Carrick has steadied the ship during an unbeaten three-match caretaker stint that ended with an entertaining 3-2 victory against Arsenal at a bouncing Old Trafford.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 2, 2021
It was only their second win in nine Premier League games and a timely shot in the arm ahead of Rangnick’s first game in charge against Crystal Palace this Sunday.
The German has signed a deal until the end of the season and Thursday’s match will have given him food for thought, having seen the quality and ongoing concerns first hand from the directors’ box.
Finding a way to keep clean sheets will be key if this season is to be a success for United, although there was little that could be done to prevent Emile Smith Rowe’s bizarre opener.
David De Gea was rolling around in pain when the Arsenal youngster struck, with the VAR instructing referee Martin Atkinson to award the goal as it was the Spaniard’s team-mate Fred that hurt the goalkeeper.
Bruno Fernandes, making his 100th United appearance, levelled before half-time, with Ronaldo turning home Marcus Rashford’s cross to bring up 800 goals for club and country early in the second half.
But Arsenal took just two minutes to bring this helter-skelter clash back level as Martin Odegaard found the net with a low finish – good work undone 16 minutes later by his rash challenge on Fred inside the box.
Atkinson awarded the penalty after the VAR advised he watch the pitchside monitor, with Ronaldo keeping his cool in front of the Stretford End to lash home what proved to be the winner.
The night started with a giant ‘20LEGEND’ banner being unfurled in that stand as the United faithful chanted club great Solskjaer’s name following last month’s exit.
The 1999 treble hero will never be forgotten at Old Trafford, where both sides had chances during an open start that witnessed a freakish 13th-minute goal from Smith Rowe.
Harry Maguire headed clear a corner but it was flicked on for Smith Rowe to strike into bottom left-hand corner with De Gea on the floor in pain.
At first it looked like the goal would not be given, only for the VAR to award it as Fred had done the damage. United players were furious.
Rangnick made notes in the stands as Ronaldo attempted to draw the hosts level, with Maguire twice trying his luck from distance as players complained of flat footballs.
Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli fluffed his lines after a fine work by Odegaard as half-time approached, with United capitalising on that missed chance by levelling in the 44th minute.
Jadon Sancho played smartly on to Fred, who intelligently cut back for Fernandes to fire past Aaron Ramsdale. The Portuguese’s relief was palpable.
The second half started with both goalkeepers producing important stops as De Gea denied Gabriel and Ronaldo then tested Ramsdale.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 2, 2021
The in-form Arsenal goalkeeper held onto a Rashford strike but would be beaten in the 52nd minute.
Diogo Dalot, impressing on a rare start, played down the right to Rashford, who sent a low cross over for Ronaldo to turn home.
The 36-year-old’s trademark celebration in the corner was lapped up by fans, but two minutes later they were silenced.
Thomas Partey swept wide to Martinelli on the right and his low pass was met by a first-time Odegaard strike that skipped into the bottom left-hand corner.
The match continued to sway from end to end in frantic fashion, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang denied by De Gea before Fernandes threatened with a hopeful cross-shot.
The game-changing moment came courtesy of the VAR’s intervention. United fans and players were apoplectic after Atkinson waved play on when Fred appeared to be fouled by Odegaard.
The VAR advised the referee to watch the monitor, with a penalty swiftly awarded as Ronaldo rifled down the middle in the 70th minute.
De Gea had to be alert to stop Aubameyang, including one particularly impressive save unaware an offside was called, with Bukayo Saka proving a handful after his introduction.
Fred threw himself in front of the substitute’s shot and Fernandes was denied on the break as the match finished 3-2 to United.
It was a winning end to Carrick’s time at the club, with United announcing their former captain was stepping down as first-team coach and leaving the Old Trafford giants.