This weekend might well spell the end of any slim hopes Manchester United have of Champions League qualification, but as a result, more youngsters could be given the chance to showcase their talents at senior level in the weeks ahead. There are certainly plenty of them knocking on the door.
Hannibal Mejbri, who impressed in his midweek cameo against Liverpool, found himself back in the U23s for the visit of Arsenal in the Premier League 2 on Friday night, while fellow teenager Alejandro Garnacho missed out because he had traveled to London as part of the first -team squad ahead of their match against Arsenal this weekend.
Garnacho, 17, is yet to make his senior debut for United but could well do so before the end of the season after catching the eye of interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
READMORE: Manchester United make Alejandro Garnacho and Hannibal Mejbri squad decisions for Arsenal clash
With fellow youngsters Will Fish, Charlie Savage and Shola Shoretire having already made their senior debuts, there is a clear pathway to the first team should any other talents impress and gives them genuine hope of being part of Erik ten Hag’s plans when he arrives this summer .
Noam Emeran is set to sign a new contract at United and he almost opened the scoring against Arsenal early on when his ambitious effort was tipped over the bar by Ovie Ejeheri. United soon went close again when D’Mani Mellor and Charlie Wellens tested Ejeheri in quick succession with two powerful efforts from inside the box.
But they’d soon pay the price for their profligacy in front of goal when the visitors took the lead through Mika Biereth. The Arsenal captain was in the right place at the right time when he poked in from a couple of yards out after Radek Vitek had tipped away the initial effort from Kido Taylor-Hart.
It continued to be a hard-fought match following the goal, and United would soon have Vitek to thank for keeping the deficit to one, as he saved well to deny the lively right winger Taylor-Hart from another tight angle.
United needed a spark from somewhere and it almost came seconds before the half-time whistle when Alvaro Fernandez found himself on the edge of the box and drilled an effort just wide of the post.
Neil Wood’s side wouldn’t get a goal in the first half, but they would get one at the start of the second when Shoretire carved open the Arsenal defense with an exquisite through ball and Emeran calmly finished. It’s now 14 months since Shoretire made his senior debut for the club, becoming United’s youngest ever player in European competition after coming on against Real Sociedad to break Norman Whiteside’s record.
The 18-year-old has always been highly rated by United throughout his progression through the youth ranks but appears to have gone a little under the radar in recent months, seemingly dwarfed by the international recognition teammates Zidane Iqbal, Hannibal and Garnacho have all received .
But there is a reason why Shoretire has been tipped to go far in the professional game, and in the second half against Arsenal he came alive with some fine link-up play and intelligent running off the ball while also impressing with his desire to win the ball back when out of possession.
United came alive after the equalizer and almost got a second when Shoretire tested Ejeheri at his near-post and Fernandez fired another ferocious effort over the bar.
Arsenal threatened on the break on numerous occasions, with Marcelo Flores coming close to a goal when he cut inside from the left and fired at Vitek. Seconds later, United almost responded in style as Hannibal ripped apart the opposition defense with a dazzling dribble before teeing up Mellor who fired straight at the goalkeeper.
In the end, neither side was able to find that all-important winner, and on a night when Man City were crowned winners of the Premier League 2, United and Arsenal proved why they have been the best of the rest this season.
Garnacho might be the youngster who gets his chance against Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime, but there are plenty more who need to be considered.
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