By Nik Brumsack at Moss Lane
A brace from Chuba Akpom sealed a point for Arsenal Under-21s against Manchester United at Moss Lane on Monday night.
The striker gave Steve Gatting’s side an early lead with an explosive finish from close range, before the hosts turned the game on its head with two goals in seven minutes from Nick Powell and Jesse Lingard.
Akpom levelled things up in an entertaining first half when he pounced to score from inside the six-yard box.
And despite both sides forcing opportunities to steal the win, a draw was probably a fair result in a committed encounter which neither side deserved to lose.
Gatting named a strong side for his first game in charge at this level with Lukasz Fabianski making his first start since suffering a long-term ankle injury last summer.
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill was deployed at left back, with Martin Angha on the opposite flank. Ignasi Miquel was back in the team after appearing as a substitute in the first team’s victory over Sunderland on Saturday, while Thomas Eisfeld, Conor Henderson and Serge Gnabry lined up as the attacking triumvirate behind lone striker Akpom.
After an even start, it was Arsenal who made the early breakthrough after 11 minutes. Akpom received the ball inside the area and expertly turned his marker before smashing an unstoppable shot past Ben Amos and into the roof of the net.
The hosts had looked dangerous throughout though, and were level just four minutes later. Adnan Januzaj swung in a dangerous free kick from the left and Powell rose highest to head emphatically past Fabianski.
"Akpom received the ball inside the area and expertly turned his marker before smashing an unstoppable shot past Ben Amos"
And midway through the first half, the turnaround was complete. The impressive Powell shrugged Miquel off the ball before feeding Januzaj. He looked up and rolled the ball into the path of Lingard, who calmly slotted the ball home.
Warren Joyce’s team had wrestled back the initiative and could have extended their lead after 26 minutes. Marnick Vermijl raced to the byline before cutting the ball back to the onrushing Ryan Tunnicliffe. The midfielder met the pass with a crisp shot that clipped the bar on its way over.
The game was being played at break-neck speed, and Arsenal made the most of their reprieve on the half hour. Henderson unleashed a swerving shot that Amos spilled into the path of Akpom, who tapped home.
After a quiet start, Gnabry became more of a focal point in Arsenal’s forward forays. His pace and direct movement was causing increasing problems for the home side’s back line, and he almost gave Gatting’s side the lead on the stroke of half-time.
The German youth international picked the ball up 25 yards from goal before driving at the United defence and curling a left-footed shot just wide of Amos’ post.
The performance of Akpom had undoubtedly been the highlight of the first half. His movement off the ball was clever and created space for team-mates, his finishing had been crisp and clinical, and his physical presence in attack ensured the home side’s centre halves had their work cut out to win any aerial duel.
Akpom started the second period as he had ended the first - as a danger. After working a yard of space, the 17-year-old ran at goal but saw his goalbound effort blocked behind for a corner by Michele Fornasier.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy. Henderson’s free kick was deflected narrowly off target before Akpom was clattered by Amos just outside the area when charging through on goal. The goalkeeper was booked, and was perhaps only saved a more severe punishment by the covering Fornasier, who had raced back onto the goal line.
After a free-flowing first period, the second half saw both sides struggle to create the same number of opportunities they had in the opening 45 minutes.
Akpom was the exception, and was unlucky to see his header go over after he flung himself at Ormonde-Ottewill’s inviting cross.
But the hosts would come back in the final 10 minutes. Sean McGinty’s cross nearly caught out Fabianski, but fortunately for the Arsenal captain, the ball landed on top of the net. Then Miquel had to be alert to beat Powell to a low cross.
Just before full time, Arsenal twice went close to nicking the win. Gnabry’s free kick beat Amos but flew just wide, before Isaac Hayden’s long-range piledriver was blocked.
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