Jesse Lingard once again made the Emirates stadium feel like his own personal playground as Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-1 in the FA Cup.
The Englishman scored a brace at the Emirates last season in another 3-1 win, famously performing the Milly Rock dance in front of ecstatic Man United supporters.
And he was back tormenting the North London side a year later with a performance hallmarked by speed, precision, confidence, touch, aggression, fun, even a bit of arrogance. Arsenal couldn’t handle him in 2017; they couldn’t handle him here.
His goal, scored moments after Alexis Sanchez had given Man United the lead, was a delicous mixture of attacking thrust and deft control, taking one touch to kill the ball and another to silkily roll the ball past Petr Cech.
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 25, 2019
And yes, one year after the Milly Rock On Arsenal’s Block, he was back dancing on the Emirates turf again – this time treating Gooners to a textbook moonwalk.
Many may interpret Lingard’s demeanour as a sign of him lacking focus, of not taking things seriously enough.
There is, no doubt, a kind of detachment there. I’m sure if you asked Lingard about Brexit, or his stance Trump’s government shutdown, he’d just shrug. “Don’t know mate, don’t look into all that,” he’d be saying, phone in one hand, relentlessly nutmegging you with a tennis ball, snap-chatting the whole thing.
I consider this to be a very valuable quality for a top level footballer like Lingard. The Graeme Souness generation likes to talk about football as if it were some military discipline, taken as a life or death situation. Even the generation of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard approached the game with a kind of cold, quiet, cautious sense of optimum concentration.
Lingard’s generation behaves differently, thinks differently. That sense of crushing pressure is not present in the way it used to be. Games like these, under the lights at the Emirates, represent a chance to perform, to entertain, as opposed to merely resembling sheer bloody toil.
It is this mentality which enabled Lingard and his England teammates to not just progress to the World Cup semi-final for the first time in a generation. It enabled him to do it with a smile.
So when you see Lingard label the Emirates as his ‘Dancefloor’ on Instagram, do not think he means disrespect. His attitude on social media is the same attitude he takes on the pitch: liberated, audacious, on brand, an expression of his core spirit.
And if you look past Lingard’s social media antics, you will see a genuinely nice guy – somebody who, despite the money he earns, does not harbour that sense of rich-guy detachment from ordinary people. You cannot help but feel as if Lingard would get on with pretty much anyone.
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) January 26, 2019
The bottom line is this: Lingard, whether on a TV show or hanging with his friends or playing at the Emirates, does not really ever change. He is unapologetically himself – always.
And it is that spirit, more than any tactical details, which laid the platform for the showman-like performance which helped propel United to victory at Arsenal on Friday. It is why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Lingard has to start in every big game.