A 2-2 draw at the Emirates, secured the point that Man United needed to secure Division 1 football for next season in the Premier League 2. Arsenal scored twice in the first half through Reiss Nelson and Edward Nketiah. However, a long-range strike from Josh Harrop in the second half, coupled with an own goal from Chiori Johnson levelled the scoreline.
This was the third time in a week that United had faced Arsenal, with both the first team and u18s losing to the London club. U23 captain Axel Tuanzebe was unavailable, having played the full 90 minutes the day before. Scott McTominay, who had made his first team debut against the Gunners just over 24 hours before was available to start and wore the captain’s armband.
It is worth noting that before the game United were sitting in 10th place in the table with 2 games remaining. Reading were the only team who could catch the Reds, and while the possibility of the Royals leapfrogging United to avoid relegation was remote, it nevertheless remained a possibility.
United started brightly, considering that they were away from home, and their recent run of poor form. Josh Bohui, playing as lone striker, did well in the early minutes to pull cut back and play the ball towards Callum Gribbin and Josh Harrop. Gribbin did well to step back and allow Harrop take on the strike which Matt Macey, in the Arsenal goal saved.
Unfortunately as the game wore on United faded and Arsenal grew in the match, creating several opportunities. Tyrell Warren had to be alert to put Nketiah off a shot which he deflected out for a corner. A slip from Chris Willock in the box saw another chance evaporate for the home side. Savvas Mourgos also saw a couple of chances go wide.
And so, it was with a sense of inevitability that Arsenal took the lead through Nelson, who had been left free by Demetri Mitchell in the box. Minutes later, the Gunners doubled their lead with Nketiah tapping home past Kieran O’Hara after more poor defending from United’s back four. At that point it looked like a question of ‘how many?’ for Arsenal, as United were devoid of any spark of creativity.
The second half started tamely, apart from an early chance for Arsenal’s Joe Willock, whose substitution on at half-time meant that all three Willock brothers were on the pitch. Arsenal were perhaps a little overconfident with their half-time substitutions, taking off both of their goals corers. Meanwhile United used all three of their substitutions before the hour mark, Scott and McTominay going off for tactical reasons while Gribbin had picked up a knock. The introduction of Tosin Kehinde, Ethan Hamilton, and in particular Zach Dearnley for his first u23 appearance of the season, had the desired effect, and United started to slowly improve.
Matthew Olosunde embraced the attacking side of his game in the second half, linking up well with Dearnley on the right flank as United started to press forward. Kehinde picked out Harrop for the goal, finding him on the edge of the box. Harrop turned and shot into the far bottom corner of the goal.
Moments later it looked as though Arsenal would restore their two goal cushion when the referee awarded a penalty to the home side for a challenge from Warren. The replay showed that the (definite) foul happened just outside of the box but in real time it is perhaps understandable that the referee gave the penalty. However, justice was done when Kieran O’Hara managed to save Donyell Malen’s spot-kick.
That appeared to give United the confidence to continue to push for an equaliser and eventually one came just 7 minutes from time. Dearnley went on a strong run down the right flank. He got around the defender and played the ball into Harrop. The midfielder pushed to the byline and played the ball in hard across the face of goal. It deflected into the back of the net off the defender Johnson.
Both teams attempted to find a winning goal in the final stages but it wasn’t meant to be. Fortunately for United that point is enough to secure Division 1 football for next season, a small silver lining in an otherwise miserable season for the defending league champions.
Man United: O’Hara, Olosunde, Warren, Borthwick-Jackson, Mitchell, Scott (Kehinde 46′), M. Willock, Gribbin (Hamilton 54′), Harrop, McTominay (c) (Dearnley 59′), Bohui.
Unused Substitutes: Richardson, Whelan.
Goal(s): Harrop (72′), Johnson (83′ OG).
Booking(s): Kehinde (87′).
Man of the Match: Kieran O’Hara.
Arsenal: Macey, Jenkinson, Johnson, Sheaf, Bramall, Kamara, Maitland-Niles, Mourgos (Dragomir 83′), Nelson (Malen 46′), C. Willock, Nketiah (J. Willock 46′).
Unused Substitutes: Keto, Olowu.
Goal(s): Nelson (33′), Nketiah (36′).