Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance against Arsenal demonstrated how important the five-time Ballon d’Or winner still plays for Manchester United.
Erik ten Hag left Cristiano Ronaldo out of United’s starting lineup for the fourth time in a row on Sunday. With the game poised at 1-0, the 37-year-old replaced rookie and goalscorer Antony just before the hour mark.
Bukayo Saka scored just minutes later to give the Gunners a way back into the game as they pushed for a winning goal. United, on the other hand, remained composed as they absorbed pressure and blasted Arsenal with two deadly counter-attacks within nine minutes of one other.
Marcus Rashford easily tapped past Aaron Ramsdale after being sent through by a magnificent Bruno Fernandes through pass in the 66th minute. On the 75th minute, Christian Eriksen offered a tap-in for the striker as the Reds made it 3-1 thanks to Rashford’s second goal of the game.
Although he did not make headlines, Ronaldo’s contribution to the game was critical. With the score at 1-1, the Portugal captain international forced Sambi Lokonga to give up possession inside United’s half with some terrific pressing – three passes later, it was 2-1 to United.
Ronaldo continued to press, forcing Ramsdale into an erroneous pass while breathing down the goalkeeper’s neck. Fernandes was unable to profit from the error, as Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech sprinted out to prevent the United midfielder’s effort to chip the ball over him.
Ronaldo was surrounded by six Arsenal players on the halfway line for United’s third goal, enabling Eriksen the freedom to sprint on to Fernandes’ through-ball, allowing Rashford the simplest of finishes. The forward’s sheer presence on the field was enough to divert the Gunners’ attention away from the rest of his teammates, allowing for the goal.
If it hadn’t been for a terrible ball from Fred, the former Real Madrid and Juventus striker might have scored himself. A rather comical mistake from Granit Xhaka saw the Arsenal midfielder slip over his own feet on the touchline, as Fred pounced to keep the ball in play. Ronaldo had acres of room on the edge of the Arsenal box in the 83rd minute, but the United midfielder couldn’t find the pass that would have put Ronaldo one-on-one with Ramsdale.
Despite not beginning or creating headlines, Ronaldo illustrated in his half-hour cameo why he is such an essential component of this United team.