By Isaac Moore at Meadow Park
Arsenal Under-21s ended 2013 with a well-deserved draw at home to last season’s Development League winners Manchester United.
Larnell Cole put the visitors ahead from the spot after he was tripped by Isaac Hayden. But the Gunners levelled 13 minutes after half-time through Thomas Eisfeld’s low finish.
Arsenal dominated the closing stages and hit a post in stoppage time but the draw keeps them seventh in the table.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made three changes to the side that lost 5-1 to Sunderland at the start of the month. Matt Macey replaced Emiliano Viviano in goal with Benik Afobe and Ryo returning from injury to bolster Arsenal’s attack.
Despite Afobe’s recall, Chuba Akpom kept his place in the side and started from the left flank.
The champions arrived on the back of a slow start to the league season but, like Arsenal, the Red Devils had played just seven times before this game. James Wilson retained his place up front after scoring in United’s 2-0 win over Blackburn two weeks ago.
It was a bright start from the young Gunners but they fell behind after a lapse in concentration. In the 10th minute Cole dispossessed Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill on the left edge of the box and he was hauled down by Gedion Zelalem, giving referee Richard Hulme no choice but to point to the spot.
Cole picked himself up and coolly sent Macey the wrong way to give United the lead slightly against the run of play.
Arsenal’s response was good, forcing a number of corners which the visitors struggled to deal with.
In the 16th minute, Hayden lifted a clever ball onto Afobe’s chest. The forward’s control was instant and he swivelled past a defender, but his volley flew just wide.
Ten minutes later, Wilson found himself a pocket of space on the edge of the Arsenal box before drilling a shot just wide of the top corner.
The home side continued to push forward in search of an equaliser before half-time. Tafari Moore sent a dangerous cross in from the right that just evaded Akpom’s head.
After a scrappy start to the second period Arsenal got their equaliser on 58 minutes. A sweeping move saw Tafari Moore spring to the byline before cutting back an inviting, low cross for Eisfeld. The German midfielder powered a low shot past Joel Castro Pereira.
Five minutes later, Arsenal almost gifted United the lead again when Wilson was handed possession 20 yards from goal, but Hayden recovered to make a sliding challenge.
Much to the defender’s dismay, Hulme deemed his challenge illegal and gave a free-kick but Arsenal’s wall stood tall to block Donald Love’s effort.
Wilson then went close in the 74th minute when he hit a swerving low shot just wide from 30 yards out.
Gatting’s team poured forwards in the closing stages in search of a winner that would have taken them up to fifth in the league table.
In the 85th minute, Kris Olsson floated a teasing cross into the box which just evaded Semi Ajayi’s jump.
Arsenal missed a golden opportunity to snatch the points in stoppage time when Jon Toral’s shot was saved by the legs of Castro Pereira. The rebound fell into Eisfeld’s path but his low strike cannoned off the post.
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