Arsenal’s u23s were doomed from the start in a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United on Friday after an early red card left them struggling for a foothold.

Joe Hugill sees his penalty saved by Arthur Okonkwo (Photo via ManUtd.com)
Joe Hugill sees his penalty saved by Arthur Okonkwo (Photo via ManUtd.com)

Before the first whistle, it looked like we were in for a good game between the Arsenal and Manchester United u23s on Friday night. United had been free-scoring but also open at the back in recent weeks, conceding 11 and scoring 14 in three games in 2021.

Arsenal named a pretty strong side, though with a rather inexperienced central-defensive partnership. Unfortunately, that was what cost them in the early moments.

After Daniel Oyegoke let Hannibal Mejbri in behind after just eight minutes, he tried to cut across the United man and brought him down for a penalty and a red card. It was almost a carbon-copy of David Luiz vs Wolves, though with a little more contact.

The u23s have had too many red cards recently. Alex Kirk got sent off in the last match against Manchester United, whilst Karl Hein reduced his team to 10 in the opening minutes away to Manchester City.

Folarin Balogun earned himself a red against Everton, and now Oyegoke has made it four in four months for the team. Only Southampton (five) have more red cards in the Premier League 2 this season.

Arsenal goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo kept the scores level with a strong penalty save, but there was no doubt the tide would be against them from then on.

Steve Bould brought on centre-back Jonathan Dinzeyi in the 12th minute, sacrificing midfielder Charlie Patino. Patino’s promotion to the u23s has been one of the big positives in recent weeks, so that was a shame.

When United did take the lead, midway through the first half, Okonkwo will probably feel he should have done better. He let Harvey Neville’s shot through his legs when it looked saveable.

Yet Okonkwo was also the only reason Arsenal didn’t go further behind in the first hour of the match. He made a couple of excellent saves, including one from a free-kick heading for the top corner and another with his feet in a one-on-one.

Arthur Okonkwo with the Arsenal u21s (Photo via Okonkwo on Twitter)
Arthur Okonkwo with the Arsenal academy (Photo via Okonkwo on Twitter)

Despite the situation, Arsenal actually had some great chances to draw level. Their two best opportunities fell to Balogun, who put the first straight at the goalkeeper but saw the second heading right for the corner of the net before a fingertip save.

But it was United who scored the next goal, tapping in from close range with another one Okonkwo should have saved. He got his hand to it but let the ball through his legs for it to trickle over the line.

It was such a hit-and-miss night for the goalkeeper, who went on to make another excellent save onto the woodwork a few minutes later. There was certainly little he could do about United’s third – another penalty.

By that point, Arsenal had given up any hope of a comeback. The final minutes played out like a training session.

There’s really not too much we can take from a game like this. One of the positives was Tim Akinola’s performance, as the midfielder consistently dribbled past the United press to at least give Arsenal a chance on the counter.

Kido Taylor-Hart and Balogun both showed flashes of ability, but they kept trying to do it all on their own. Largely because they didn’t have much choice in the circumstances, but they were also just trying to do too much.

I’m not sure what’s holding centre-back January signing Omar Rekik back from making his u23 debut at this point, but it would be better to have him involved sooner rather than later.

Lineup: Okonkwo; Alebiosu, Oyegoke, Kirk, Lopez; Akinola, Patino, Cottrell; Moller, Balogun, Taylor-Hart

Subs: Cirjan (for Akinola, 82), Dinzeyi (for Patino, 12), Lewis, Ogungbo (for Lopez, 83), Smith

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Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.