Premier League 2
Manchester United 1 (Mejia 24) Arsenal 1 (Edwards 20)
Arsenal U21s appear to be gradually emerging from their period of woeful form as they got a point away to their Manchester United counterparts in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford tonight.
Mehmet Ali’s side saw their winless run in all competitions extended to nine games and they still haven’t secured all three points in a Premier League 2 fixture since January. However, their last two displays have at least included some signs of encouragement and they took the lead when Khayon Edwards pounced on a mistake. United responded quickly through Mateo Mejia and Arsenal had some difficult moments, but they improved late on following the introduction of Amario Cozier-Duberry.
The result sees Arsenal move up to sixth place in the Premier League 2 table with five matches remaining.
Arsenal were without Reuell Walters, who is with the first-team, so James Sweet continued at right-back. Lino Sousa came into the side at left-back in place of Henry Jeffcott. There were some tactical alterations, with Ben Cottrell starting as an attacking midfielder, while Catalin Cirjan was deployed on the left flank and Charles Sagoe Jr was on the right.
The United team included 36-year-old Tom Huddlestone, who is a player-coach at the club.
Subs: Cozier-Duberry (for Cirjan, 67). Not used: Cooper, Jeffcott, Ibrahim, Benjamin.
Arsenal started with impressive intensity as Mauro Bandeira found Edwards, whose shot was saved.
Cottrell then did well to win the ball and find Sagoe Jr, with the winger seeing his effort pushed away for a corner.
United responded with a chance of their own as defender Jack Kingdon shot over and then at the other end Arsenal had a penalty claim turned down despite the ball striking Omari Forson on the hand.
Arsenal continued to carve out chances with much greater regularity than in recent weeks, with Cirjan and Bandeira both having efforts.
Eventually Arsenal took the lead as Edwards capitalised on hesitancy from United goalkeeper Elyh Harrison to get his first goal since returning from injury.
Sousa then embarked upon a brilliant run down the left flank before seeing his shot saved.
Arsenal’s lead didn’t last for long, however, with Mejia pulling United level with a neat finish.
Both teams had chances as the second half wore on as Bandeira and Sagoe Jr were denied for Arsenal and Ethan Williams shot wide for United, but the sides went into the break level.
Sagoe Jr struck the post in the second half following a precise through-ball from Smith and then Edwards had a header saved following a corner.
Hubert Graczyk was called into action to keep out Williams’ effort and then Huddlestone saw a free-kick gathered. The former Tottenham midfielder played some impressive passes in the first half but tired as the game wore on.
Arsenal then sent on Cozier-Duberry in place of Cirjan but, somewhat strangely, the winger was deployed on the left wing initially, with Sagoe Jr remaining on the right.
Sousa had a shot blocked and then Arsenal started to look more dangerous as Cozier-Duberry moved over to the right wing.
In the closing stages Cozier-Duberry came agonisingly close to getting a winner, with his shot going just wide.
There were six added minutes and Arsenal were thankful to Sweet late on, with the right-back making a precisely-timed interception to thwart the danger.
Arsenal have now secured two consecutive draws and although there is still room for improvement, things are at least now moving i the right direction.
Edwards provides a real focal point up front and it was encouraging to see him complete 90 minutes, while Matt Smith impressed in the second half and Cozier-Duberry was a threat after coming on.
Ben Cottrell also had some good moments and special praise should be reserved for Sousa, who was effective both defensively and in an attacking sense.
There are just five games remaining for the U21s now and they will be determined to finally return to winning ways before the end of the campaign as belief continues to grow within the group.
Blimey, I remember when Arsenal were linked with Huddlestone when he was a promising teenager at, if I recall, Derby County.