Van Gaal: Smalling has been Manchester United's defensive leader this season

The Manchester United centre back captained the side against Arsenal at the weekend.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal awarded defender Chris Smalling the captaincy for the first time against Arsenal on Sunday, and told Sky Sports before the game just why he had gone with the 25-year-old in Wayne Rooney's absence.

At the start of the season, Van Gaal picked three players as authoritative figures in the first team: Rooney as captain, and Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick as vice-captains. With the two Englishman injured against the Gunners and Fletcher departed, the ex Ajax boss went with a younger player to lead the team on the Old Trafford pitch.

The Dutchman revealed before the match that he has been keeping his eye on Smalling's development at United this season, telling Sky Sports: "I make my decisions on a human level too, and I have been watching him and been impressed.

"This season Smalling has been more of a leader in defence than any other player."

The England international's teammate Carrick echoed the sentiments of the United manager, telling the Sky studio that he thought the former Fulham star was maturing impressively at Old Trafford.

"He's older of course, and has that experience now that he didn't have before," reasoned the midfielder. "This season has been a really good one for him."

Smalling, who signed a contract extension in April, may go on to skipper the side against Hull in the final game of the season, unless Rooney or Carrick return.

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