London (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes “killer” striker Marcus Rashford will help Manchester United cope without suspended team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the Premier League giants meet at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Teenage forward Rashford made a dramatic entrance into senior football in February, scoring twice in United’s 3-2 win over Arsenal just after days after grabbing two goals in his first-team debut against FC Midtjylland.
The 19-year-old, now an England international, started five consecutive Premier League games for United before manager Jose Mourinho made him an unused substitute in the club’s 3-1 win at Swansea last time out.
But with Ibrahimovic banned and captain Wayne Rooney, injured on England duty last week, set to be only fit enough to be on the bench, Rashford could feature from the kick-off against Arsenal.
“Certainly they would prefer to have him (Ibrahimovic),” Wenger said Friday.
“But we have as well players out and let’s not forget, last year (season) the guy who killed us was Rashford. So let’s not speculate on any weakness of Man United,” the veteran French manager added.
Wenger, looking to secure a maiden league win over former Chelsea boss Mourinho in his 12th top-flight contest with his Portuguese rival, said Rashford’s initial form had taken him slightly by surprise.
“Yes of course,” he told a news conference before adding: “Maybe a bit less, because I watched him against a Danish team in midweek and he scored and I could see straight away that this guy could be dangerous.
“On crosses his movement was good, the way he moved in the box was strong. He took everyone by surprise because no one knew him in England.”
– ‘Key game’ –
Arsenal’s 3-2 reverse at Old Trafford in February remains their only away league defeat of 2016.
The Gunners are now fourth in the table, two points behind leaders Liverpool, but will go top — if only for a few hours — should they win Saturday’s early kick-off against United.
By contrast, Mourinho’s men head into this match six points adrift of the top four and the place in the Champions League that comes with it.
Arsenal’s defeat on their last league visit to Old Trafford helped scupper the London club’s hopes of a first Premier League title since 2004 and Wenger — once labelled a “specialist in failure” by Mourinho — is keen to make amends.
“In 2016 we lost one away game in the whole year and that was at Old Trafford,” he said. “So overall, on top of that, I think that is really the key game, it was a key game for us and that is where we did not respond with the quality of performance on the day.
“We did not only lose the game, but that’s maybe one of the few away games in the whole year where the performance was not at the level.
“So we want to focus on that and respond with a strong performance and after we have to accept the result. But what will be very important for me is that we respond with a strong performance on Saturday morning.”
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