Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Nelson 33, Nketiah 36) Manchester United 2 (Harrop 72, Johnson o.g. 83)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U23s surrendered a two-goal lead to end up drawing with their Manchester United counterparts at Emirates Stadium tonight in their final game of the season.
The young Gunners produced an attacking masterclass in the first half and went 2-0 up courtesy of goals from Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah, both of which were teed up by the sprightly Cohen Bramall.
However, Nelson and Nketiah were withdrawn at the break with tomorrow’s important U18 game against Chelsea in mind and Arsenal struggled without their two star players.
United grew in confidence and, despite Matt Macey making several fine stops, the visitors eventually reduced the deficit through a fine strike from Josh Harrop. Nicky Butt’s team continued to pour forwards and eventually got their reward with Chiori Johnson inadvertently turning the ball into his own net.
Arsenal had squandered an inviting opportunity to re-assert themselves when it was 2-1, with substitute Donyell Malen missing a penalty that he had won himself.
The result means that Arsenal will finish fourth in Premier League 2.
With several U18 players rested ahead of the Chelsea game, tonight’s team had a rather unusual look to it. Johnson started in the unfamiliar position of centre-back, while Glen Kamara and Savvas Mourgos were brought in for rare and potentially final appearances for the club.
United, meanwhile, included Matty Willock, brother of Arsenal duo Chris and Joe, in their starting line-up, along with Scott McTominay, who featured in the Premier League meeting between these clubs yesterday.
Subs: J. Willock (for Nelson, 46), Malen (for Nketiah, 46), Dragomir (for Mourgos, 84). Not used: Keto, Olowu.
Rather like the first-team game the previous day, this encounter got off to a slow and rather uneventful start.
It soon came to life. Macey had to be alert to prevent United from taking the lead, while at the other end Ainsley Maitland-Niles almost picked out the on-rushing Mourgos, who was caught offside.
Soon Arsenal started to establish control. Firstly Bramall saw his cross gathered, then Nketiah came close, with Mourgos subsequently dragging an effort wide.
United posed a threat themselves, with Matty Willock shooting wide after impressive work from Matthew Olosunde, but it was clear that Arsenal were in the ascendancy.
Nketiah and Maitland-Niles both sent efforts wide but then the deadlock was finally broken.
Chris Willock did extremely well to create an opening, with the winger finding Bramall, who crossed for Nelson to make it 1-0.
Just three minutes later Arsenal were celebrating again and Bramall was the architect once more.
Bramall has come some way from working in a Bentley factory and the 21-year-old motored down the left flank prior to sending in a precise delivery, which the clinical Nketiah latched onto.
Nketiah’s sweet strike got the better of O’Hara, but the striker didn’t emerge for the second half as he and Nelson were replaced by Joe Willock and Malen.
Joe Willock was eager to impress and made some dangerous bursts forward, but United were gradually growing in confidence, with Jenkinson having to make an important defensive intervention before Macey made two stunning saves in quick succession to keep out Matty Willock’s stinging drive and Olosunde’s powerful header.
He was helpless, however, to stop Harrop’s precise strike, which gave United a foothold in the game.
Arsenal, though, had a chance to instantly restore their two-goal cushion when Malen won a penalty after he was brought down following an instinctive turn.
The striker, unfortunately, wasn’t able to find the net from the spot, with O’Hara making a very good save.
United were suddenly a major threat down the other end, with belief coursing through their veins.
Macey tried his utmost to preserve Arsenal’s lead and made two more great saves but the pressure was relentless and United equalised through an effort that deflected in off Johnson.
Arsenal threw on Vlad Dragomir as they sought to reclaim the lead and the midfielder very nearly made an instant impact, seeing his effort repelled by O’Hara.
Maitland-Niles and Malen had further chances but failed to take them and that was that, both for the game and the season.
Finishing fourth is rather impressive when it appeared that relegation was a genuine possibility earlier in the campaign, while excellent progress has been made this season by the likes of Nketiah, Nelson and Ben Sheaf.
There will surely be departures in the summer but it is just hoped that Chris and Joe Willock, who are both coming to the end of their contracts, are not amongst them.