By Nathan Youd.
All the goals were scored in a frantic first half, with Nick Powell, who started up front, and Jesse Lingard netting for United and the impressive Chuba Akpom bagging a brace for the visitors.
Despite the game being played on a heavily worn pitch, both sides played their part in an entertaining encounter and neither could argue that a point was a fair result at the end of the game.
Arsenal started the game brighter, with their players getting to the first ball and showing a bit more enthusiasm than their United counterparts in the scrappy opening stages.
Central defender Saed Hajrovic set the tone for an aggressive battle throughout the game with a tough tackle on United’s Nick Powell; a battle that the young United man probably edged throughout the game.
United created the first opportunity, Frederic Veseli found space down the right, before delivering a brilliant ball across the face of goal, which just evaded Nick Powell. You could argue a more recognized front man would have converted the chance, however.
It was Arsenal who opened the scoring in the 11th minute through Chuba Akpom. United failed to clear after a throw in deep inside their own half, the ball fell to Akpom, who skipped past Michele Fornasier’s weak challenge, before curling the ball into the top corner past Ben Amos.
United were level just four minutes later. The reds won a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the Arsenal box, Adnan Januzaj found Nick Powell, who glanced the ball in at the near post.
United then took the lead in the 20th minute. A lovely counter attack found Nick Powell in space, the former Crewe man showed great strength to shrug off the challenge of Hajrovic before cutting the ball back to the oncoming run of Januzaj, who showed lovely presence of mind to roll the ball through to Jesse Lingard, who’s scuffed finish bounced past Fabianski.
United then threatened to double their advantage with another fantastic counter attack. Frederic Veseli found some space down the left before cutting the ball back to Ryan Tunicliffe, whose left footed curling effort glanced off the top of the crossbar.
Just ten minutes later, the visitors were level with a goal out of nowhere. Conor Henderson unleashed a dipping, swerving drive which was only parried by Amos, Akpom reacted first to tap home his second into the empty net to put Arsenal level against the run of play.
Henderson’s swerving effort was the only other real chance of note in the first half, as both sides went in to the break level at two goals apiece.
Half time: Manchester United U21s 2-2 Arsenal U21s
The second half started similar to the first half, with both sides struggling to get a foothold in the game, despite the football being played at a frantic pace.
It was Arsenal who had the first opportunity of the half, Nick Powell brought down Thomas Eisfeld, giving the visitors a dangerous free kick. Henderson struck another good left footed effort, which deflected wide via the United wall.
In the 55th minute, United shouted for a penalty. Larnell Cole’s scrappy pull back rolled towards Nick Powell, who was clipped by the defender. The referee pointed for a goal kick however, much to the dismay of the United side.
United threatened again soon after, the influential Nick Powell held the ball up well in midfield, before being felled by another strong Hajrovic challenge. The ball rolled towards Larnell Cole, whose shot was deflected wide.
On the hour mark, a seemingly harmless long ball caused concern in the United defence, Ben Amos charged out of his area before jumping to head the ball away, his elbow connected with the onrushing Akpom, giving Arsenal a free-kick in a dangerous area. The United goalkeeper will have felt lucky to escape with just a yellow card. Eisfeld skied to resulting free kick, letting United off the hook.
United then began to press, with the impressive Januzaj pulling the strings in midfield. The young 18-year-old linked well with Nick Powell, but the Arsenal defence snuffed out the potential opening.
It was Arsenal who almost took the lead with twenty minutes remaining. A floated cross from the impressive Henderson found the head of Akpom, who headed over the bar under the challenge of Sean McGinty.
With 15 minutes remaining, it was United who threatened next. Januzaj picked the ball up out wide before cutting inside and firing towards goal, his strike deflected just wide of the goal leaving Fabianski scrambling.
Both teams began to push forward with ten minutes to go, with the game being played end to end at a breakneck speed, without either side producing any clear cut chances.
Arsenal suffered a scare a few minutes later; McGinty delivered a cross that dipped towards Fabianski’s goal. The Polish goalkeeper scrambled back before breathing a sigh of relief as the ball dropped onto the roof of the net.
With two minutes remaining, Januzaj was dispossessed in midfield, Eisfeld charged towards goal before being fouled by the latter, giving Arsenal a free kick in a dangerous position. Serge Gnabry’s powerful effort flew just wide of the United goal.
That was the final chance of the game as it meandered to a close, both sides will feel disappointed that they didn’t win the game, but neither would argue that a draw was a fair result in what was a very entertaining game.
Full Time: Manchester United U21s 2-2 Arsenal U21s
Manchester United starting XI: Amos; Veseli, Fornasier, Brown, Vermijl; Thorpe, Tunnicliffe; Cole, Januzaj, Lingard; Powell.
Arsenal starting XI: Fabianski; Angha, Hajrovic, Miquel, Ormonde-Ottewill; Hayden, Yennaris, Eisfeld, Gnabry, Henderson; Akpom.
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