Match Report: Arsenal 1 – 1 Sheffield United

Arsenal (1) 1 Sheffield United (0) 1
Premier League
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 18th January 2020. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-3-1-2) Bernd Leno; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, Bukayo Saka; Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, Nicolas Pépé; Mesut Özil; Gabriel Martinelli, Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Dani Ceballos, Rob Holding, Emiliano Martínez, Joe Willock, Mattéo Guendouzi, Eddie Nketiah.
Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (45 mins)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 61%
Referee: Mike Dean
Attendance: 60,310
A very interesting team selection for the visit of The Blades today; bearing in mind that this is the first match of three that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becomes unavailable for selection due to the red card he received in the match against Crystal Palace a week ago, Mikel Arteta is shuffling the pack, both on the pitch and on the bench also. Always good to see both Nicolas Pépé and Gabriel Martinelli in the starting eleven, but the real excitement here are this afternoon’s substitutes, in the form of young striker Eddie Nketiah, back after an unhappy loan period at Leeds United and the welcome return of the injured Hector Bellerin, who has not played since he was injured in the pre-match warm up at The London Stadium before the 3-1 victory against West Ham United on 9th December.
Anyway, a slow start for us as per usual, which of course led to the visitors chancing their arm on several occasions in the first ten minutes or so. Talk about lulling them into a false sence of security, as we woke up when Alexandre Lacazette slipped an inch-perfect ball into the path of speedy Nicolas Pépé, who quickly crossed the ball to Gabriel Martinelli, who blasted it wide, just to give the Sheffield United defence notice that he was around and about today, and would be bothering them constantly over the course of the match. Ten minutes later, our man Gabriel Martinelli was even sharper, when again, Nicolas Pépé was the provider for him to test the Blades’ goalkeeper again with a superb effort that went just wide of the post. The visitors started to get themselves together somewhat in the midfield area which saw them being first to a few balls here and there, but overall, apart from a few half-hearted chances on Bernd Leno’s goal that never really troubled either him nor our defence unduly, the match appeared to turn in our favour at this point. Our confidence was moving upwards like warm mercury in a thermometer, and the link-up play between Mesut Özil and our forwards became a joy to behold. Then, almost out of mowhere, just before the break, a clever cross from Bukayo Saka bounced off a defender into the six-yard box beyond the helpless reach of goalkeeper Dean Henderson into the path of deadly striker Gabriel Martinelli who made no mistake from point-blank range to give us the lead with only a couple of minutes’ injury time of the first half to play.
The opposition defenders started to target Bukayo Saka a couple of times at the start of the second half, so much so that George Baldock found himself booked for a clumsy tackle on the Arsenal man for his trouble. Sheffield United started to apply pressure on our goal looking for the equaliser, and on the hour, Granit Xhaka managed somehow to clear an Oli McBurnie header off the line which beat Bernd Leno from close range. Despite some worrying moves by the opposition, we managed to counter-attack quickly, and with twenty minutes left on the clock, Nicolas Pépé was scythed down in the Blades’ penalty area by Jack O’Connell; a surefire penalty which was not only waved away by referee Mike Dean, but confirmed by the Stockley Park Mafia masquerading as the VAR judge, jury and executioner, which of course led to the obligatory catcalls ringing around the stadium. Ridiculous. However, on the seventy-fifth minute, Alexandre Lacazette was substituted for Eddie Nketiah, who has not been seen in an Arsenal shirt for nearly a year; our supporters exploded with elation at the return of such a popular prodigal son. Unfortunately, despite our joy, this emotion was brief. On the eighty-third minute, midfielder John Fleck equalised via a bounce and a deflection that went beyond the reach of Bernd Leno. This, of course simply fired up the visitors to attack and try to grab a late winner. Thankfully, despite four minutes injury time which included a Blades’ free-kick which was cleared, and a late Arsenal corner that went nowhere we hung on to claim a draw. It was a mercy that the final whistle went when it did; had this match carried on another five or ten minutes more, we may well have lost this game. To be fair this was two points dropped by us, an opportunity lost, with all the frustrations and angst that comes with a result such as this today.
Such a disappointment overall. Under no circumstances should we lose a lead at The Emirates, but sadly, it has to be said, that some of these players are just not good enough to compete at the most highest level of the Premiership, let alone European competition. We have to be logical and realise that not only is this season more or less written off, but it truly is going to be a long haul for Mikel Arteta to turn this team (and club) around. We are now eighteen days into the January transfer window with no obvious signs of signings; it’s looking like what we have we hold, and if that is the case, then it is going to be a long, long journey from now until the end of the season. 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: Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, 21st January at 8.15pm (Premier 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.

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