By Barry McEvoy
Manchester United went into this game needing just one point to secure top spot in the Northern A Group to set up a play-off against Blackburn Rovers, the winners of Group B. Arsenal needed a win here as Chelsea are hot on their tails for the top spot in the Southern Group. United set out with a strong first eleven, including to seasoned professionals in Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher. Ben Amos started in goals with the aforementioned Brown in the right-full back position with Joe Dudgeon in the opposite flank. Oliver Gill and Scott Wootton started in the heart of defence. Darren Fletcher, Oliver Norwood and Reece Brown were the midfield trio in the 4-3-3 formation. The top three consisted of Robbie Brady on the left, Bébé on the right and Obertan in a type of free role.
Arsenal supporters will have been delighted to see Thomas Vermaelen playing again. They might also have been somewhat surprised to see former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere being the focal point of the Arsenal attack. He’s currently there on trial after being released from Middlsebrough. The number one spot was given to James Shea for Arsenal, with Martin Angha, Daniel Boateng, Vermaelen and George Brislen-Hall starting in the defence. Kyle Ebecillio and Oguzhan Ozyakup both started deep in the midfield, just sitting in front of the back four. Conor Henderson, Chuks Aneke and Rhys Murphy played in more advanced roles in the midfield with Jeremire Aliadiere starting up top.
The game as whole was largely uneventful, with the second half seeing most of the action. Arsenal dominated possession for the majority of the opening half but were reluctant to get forward and were content to pass the ball around the midfield and back-line, which resulted in Aliadiere seeing very little of the ball. When United did manage to get possession of the ball they were very wasteful with it. Wes Brown was particularly bad with the ball at his feet, losing it on a number of occasions. Oliver Norwood was the most productive member of the United midfield, often looking to set one of the top three on a run against the shakey Arsenal defence. Obertan was a thorn in Daniel Boateng’s side for a lot of the game, he got the better of him on numerous occasions when he managed to drag the centre-back out of position.
There was a contentious decision when Obertan was taken down by Arsenal ‘keeper, James Shea, just outside the box. A lack of communication resulted in Boateng heading the ball towards his own goal, without realising how far his ‘keeper had come out and Obertan was clear through on goal only to be hacked down by Shea on the eighteen yard line. Since it was a definite scoring opportunity, Shea really should have been given a red card for the tackle. United began to string a few passes together and hold onto the ball for an extended period of time. Another attack was closed down in Arsenal’s half and a long ball over the top set Aliadiere running, only for the ball to be ushered out by Scott Wootton with an added dive from Aliadiere, whom received a booking for his troubles. The half fizzled out into a midfield battle with no real penetrating attacks. Neither side deserved to be leading at the break.
There was only one change at half-time and that was for Warren Joyce’s United side when Ryan Tunnicliffe came on for Fletcher. Tunnicliffe almost made an immediate impact when Obertan put in a tempting cross towards him at the back post. It was an easy save for Shea in the end as Tunnicliffe couldn’t get much power in the header. Marnick Vermijl came on to replace Bébé after just four minutes of the second half. Tunnicliffe began imposing himself on the game with powerful, charging runs into through midfield and going in with the strong type of tackle that he has become known for. Joe Dudgeon did well to get free on the left and put in a decent cross to Tunnicliffe who was waiting just outside the box, but he failed to get a good connection on it and the ball landed in Shea’s arms.
Arsenal will feel very hard done by after Aliadiere was taken down by Amos in the box, but was deemed to be offside. Gill attempted to play a back pass to Amos but it was intercepted by Aliadiere who was taken down rather ungracefully by Amos just outside the six yard box. Personally, I don’t see how it could be given as offside and I think Arsenal have every right to feel aggrieved by the decision, but perhaps the referee wanted to cancel out the earlier challenge made by Shea, I don’t know. Will Keane was brought on to replace Robbie Brady, it was a good sub made to late in my opinion. United had been lacking a centre forward for all the game. Some good play between Vermijl set Wes Brown off down the wing, but he took too much from it and was easily dispossessed. The story of his day. United nearly nicked it at the end when Will Keane came agonizingly close with a header from a Norwood corner, only to be denied by a top class save from Shea.
United got what they needed from the game. A point was enough to clinch the Group A title. The draw sets up a play-off against Group B winners Blackburn Rovers, with the winners more than likely facing Chelsea in the final. Obertan was probably the most effective attacking player for United throughout the game, especially when he came up against Boateng, whom he had in his pocket. Tunnicliffe was the stand out player for United in the second half. He brought a lot of energy to the side and got in the faces of the Arsenal players. Fletcher looked quite rusty in the first half, which is expected considering how long he’s been out for and he must be weak after losing a stone in weight. Hopefully he can play some role in the senior team for the title run in.
United team: Amos; W Brown, Wootton, Gill, Dudgeon; R Brown, Norwood, Fletcher(Tunnicliffe 45′); Bebe(Vermijl 49′), Brady(Keane 72′), Obertan.
Subs: Devlin, Vermijl(49′), Petrucci, Tunnicliffe(45′), W.Keane(72’)
Reserve Team Stats for 2010-11 season – Reserve Team Stats