By Barry McEvoy.
Two teams with quite a bit of first team experience both home and away faced off in their opening reserve league games at Barnet’s home ground of Underhill. Four very noticeable names started for United, Tomasz Kuszczak, Darron Gibson and Mame Biram Diouf, all perhaps in the shop window, and also the very welcome return of Darren Fletcher. Fletcher has been severely unlucky with illness and injuries since March and hasn’t got a run out for the first team in months. So his addition to the team had been hugely anticipated since it was announced by Sir Alex Ferguson on Friday afternoon.
The game started out with a lively pace to it with some end-to-end attacking. Arsenal had the best of the early exchanges with Kyle Ebecilio having a close range shot saved by Kuszczak. Despite the lack of width in the United side due to having five natural centre midfielders playing the most penetrating of their play came from Paul Pogba out on the right with Larnell Cole. They linked up excellently to set up Diouf who was forced to pass back to Darron Gibson in the midfield as he was crowded out and had very little support.
Arsenal’s most experienced player, Armand Traore, was forced to come off with a groin injury after seven minutes, the Londoners were dealt another blow when exciting striker Benik Afobe also had to come off with a groin injury after twenty-three minutes.
SUBS: Armand Traore off for Jernade Meade – 7′. Benik Afobe off for Martin Angha 22′.
Afobe had made a nuisance of himself before he came off, doing well to get a strike on goal with a run past Reece Brown in the heart of the United defence. He and Sanchez Watt combined on the right wing to get by Michael Keane and get the ball in towards Luke Freeman, who had a very tame shot on target saved by Kuszczak. Arsenal continued to pressure the United defence and eventually made their breakthrough when Freeman fed an excellent ball into Watt who lifted the ball over Kuszczak to open the scoring.
Arsenal 1-0 United – Watt 30′.
United began to get a hold of the game after conceding the goal and Pogba was again looking very dangerous on the right wing up against Nico Yennaris. The Frenchman did excellently to make space to play a high ball towards Norwood who had a shot from the edge of the box saved by Mannone in the Arsenal goal. Warren Joyce’s side eventually got on the scoresheet after a lovely pass from Darron Gibson sent Pogba out right and allowed him to put the ball across goal for Diouf to stick past Mannone from 8 yards out.
Arsenal 1-1 United – Diouf 40′.
United started the second half on top with Diouf winning a free-kick at the edge of the area which Norwood sent in, but it was above everyone’s heads and out for a goal-kick. Gibson played another excellent through ball for Pogba, this time sending him towards goal but Mannone was out from his goals quickly and stopped the danger. After a promising start to the second half, Diouf had to come off for Will Keane with a cramp in his leg.
SUB: Mame Biram Diouf off for Will Keane 56′.
A long ball behind the United defence troubled Ezekiel Fryers and Kuszczak was forced to make a good save after he was dispossessed. As the second half wore on the game became a midfield battle, just like it did for long periods of the first half. Neither team really threatened the others’ goal with anything other than token long range efforts. Aneke made the breakthrough for Arsenal with a strong run through the middle, added to a huge slice of luck with two deflections going his way, the decisive one coming off Fryers and going past Kuszczak.
Arsenal 2-1 United – Aneke 72′.
SUB: Ebecilio off for Ansah – 76′.
Luke Freeman made it tough for Cole on the right wing with an excellent run into the box, only to blast his shot over the bar. Cole was targeted somewhat after that, but did excellently to steal the ball from Ansah and clear it down the line.
SUBS: Norwood and Cole off for Petrucci and Lingard 82′.
The last 10 minutes of the game were of a rather leisurely pace, with neither team looking hugely threatening with just Petrucci getting a long range shot on target that was easily caught by Mannone. Four corners for United at the end, but ultimately all come to nothing, even though Kuszczak made his way into the box twice, once for a corner and once more for a free-kick in the dying seconds.
The most promising thing from this game was Darren Fletcher getting ninety minutes under his belt and showing little signs of rustiness. Hopefully he’s not far from a first team return. Paul Pogba was the best on the field for United tonight for me, he always looked threatening to the Gunners’ defence anytime he got the ball. Darron Gibson and Tomasz Kuszczak also had good games, with Gibson playing some wonderful through balls for the forwards, no doubt trying his best to save his United career.
The lack of width for United was striking, however, with no natural wingers on the field except for Larnell cole who was deployed as a full back behind Pogba. Overall it was a deserved loss as Arsenal just looked the better side in general play, unfortunately. They weren’t afraid to play long balls up to the forwards when needed either. It wasn’t like a traditional game between the two sides either, with no player seeing the yellow card, which is quite good to see.
Manchester United team: Tomasz Kuszczak; Larnell Cole, Reece Brown, Ezekiel Fryers, Michael Keane; Paul Pogba, Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson, Oliver Norwood, Danny Drinkwater; Mame Diouf.
Subs: Davide Petrucci, Sam Johnstone, Will Keane, Jesse Lingard, Sean McGinty.
Arsenal: Vito Mannone; Nico Yennaris, Danny Boateng, Ignasi Miquel, Armand Traore; Kyle Ebecilio, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Chuks Aneke, Sanchez Watt; Benik Afobe, Luke Freeman.
Subs: Jordan Wynter, Sean McDermott, Jernade Meade, Zak Ansah, Martin Angha.