Sheffield United (1) 1 Arsenal (0) 0
Bramall Lane, Sheffield S2 4SU
Monday, 21st October 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes:Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Lucas Torreira, Rob Holding, Emiliano Martínez, Gabriel Martinelli.
Yellow Cards: Bukayo Saka, Freddie Ljungberg, Sead Kolašinac, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Calum Chambers
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 68%
Referee: Mike Dean
Let’s be fair about it, the first thirty-five minutes or so of this frenetic, thunderous encounter on a cold Monday night in Yorkshire wasn’t exactly our most finest performance of the season so far. We simply allowed the home side to assume control in the most important areas of the pitch, and in doing so found ourselves playing catch-up to a quick, physical Sheffield United.
There is no substitute for paying attention, and at times our defence certainly lacked this basic football attribute. How on earth did Lys Mousset find himself completely unmarked in our six-yard box? And more importantly, the goal he scored against us was fairly basic stuff, and one that we should have dealt with far better than we did. Arsenal appeared to play a smash-and-grab game at times, and it was one of these movements that saw Nicolas Pépé desperately unlucky not to score, when all it took was a simple touch, and we would have redressed the balance; but it was not to be, sadly. We picked up two ridiculous bookings from Mike Dean, the first for young Bukayo Saka, of whom it is to be said that the referee felt he attempted to dupe him into giving a penalty, and the second, more unbelievably, Freddie Ljungberg for showing extreme dissent in the technical area, his first since 2006, apparently. On the stroke of half-time, Granit Xhaka was unfortunate not to score when a strong and accurate 20-yard shot was pushed away by Dean Henderson in the Sheffield United goal. Soon after, the referee blew the whistle, and a half best forgotten by us was abruptly terminated by the man in black, mercifully.
After the break, Dani Ceballos replaced an ineffective Joe Willock, and at last it looked as if Unai Emery wanted to start mixing things up a bit in the midfield area; but hang on, our bad habits from the first half started to look like they were going to haunt us again in the second, when we were caught ball-watching again as the home side tried to press home their one-goal advantage even more. Time and time again, The Blades were testing our defence, and two or three times in the first quarter of an hour after the restart things looked more than just a little bit iffy at the back. Bernd Leno made a dog’s breakfast out of a simple shot from John Fleck, and a minute or two later, Alexandre Lacazette replaced Granit Xhaka for our second substitution of the evening, thus spreading our attacking options wide at last. Nicolas Pépé almost scored with a blistering free-kick after Alexandre Lacazette was brought down just outside the box and it looked like we were finally waking up with eighteen minutes of the match left at Bramall Lane.
Nicolas Pépé made way for Gabriel Martinelli after 77 minutes, and suddenly it was looking like our options for scoring were increased by the introduction of fresh legs; despite superior possession statistics, we still could not convert this into goals scored. Shortly afterwards, Sokratis Papastathopoulos became our fifth yellow card of the evening, and to be fair, we kept on attempting to equalise the scores strongly and firmly right up until the final whistle, but it was not to be, and our unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt on an unforgiving night in Yorkshire.
Utter despair. Despite some great football by us, we were found wanting again in the most vital areas of the pitch at the wrong times. Arsenal lacked the killer punch, the man who could turn the key in the lock of the door to open up the Sheffield United defence, and above all this, very little game management, and at this level of football in this day and age, that alone proves to be a fatal flaw in a team that has so much fire and skill, class and movement. How do we square this circle? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Vitoria SC at The Emirates on Thursday 24th October at 8.00pm (Europa League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.