Sheffield United (0) 1 Arsenal (1) 2
FA Cup Sixth Round
Bramall Lane, Highfield, Sheffield S2 4SU
Sunday. 28th June 2020. Kick-off time: 1.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi, Kieran Tierney, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Joe Willock, Granit Xhaka; Sead Kolašinac, Nicolas Pépé, Alexandre Lacazette; Bukayo Saka.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Dani Ceballos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Rob Holding, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Matt Macey, Matt Smith.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (24 mins), Dani Ceballos (90+1 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 59%
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restructions
And so, the day of our last throw of the dice for silverware in this most troubled of football seasons has now arrived. Much depends, of course, not only on the team selection, but of the attitude of our chaps today, so let’s hope that they throw caution to the wind, and go for it; after all, the FA Cup is our only chance of glory now, so we need a confident, emphatic win in South Yorkshire this Sunday lunchtime, nothing else will do.
A brisk and competitive start for both clubs showed the seriousness and intent for victory here today. Our defenders were put under pressue early on; indeed, after just eight minutes, the home side put a shot across our bows when the first goal of the match was chalked off for an offside call, which became a real wake up call for us. Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a young cool head on his shoulders when he came back to win the ball under pressure and distribute it accordingly to the midfielders; although it was a difficult period of the match, we managed to keep our shape and push the ball between ourselves extremely well indeed. Funnily enough, Sheffield United attempted to replicate our movements when they, too, started to distribute the ball closely in midfield, but thankfully, it was nothing to concern our players, as we were able to halt all attempts to advance towards our goal. After twenty-two minutes, Alexandre Lacazette was fouled just inside the Sheffield United penalty area, and after the usual VAR hand-wringing back in Stockley Park, Nicolas Pépé made no mistake from the penalty spot to put us into the lead, a minute or so before the usual mid-half drinks break. On the half-hour mark, Nicolas Pépé almost got a second goal for himself, when a superb shot was acrobatically saved by Blades goalie Dean Henderson. With a goal under our belts, we started to show our confidence, and dominate the match in various areas of the pitch, much to the growing frustration of the home side. An unfortunate collision between Joe Willock and Oli McBurnie meant that both sets of medical teams were called on to check the players (who went off the field to recover) before continuing the match. Kieran Tierney was desperately unlucky not to score our second when a clever shot just went over the bar, and minutes later, Nicolas Pépé again narrowly missed the target when a low ball from Kieran Tierney deceived the Sheffield defenders with a clever move from the left hand side of the pitch. During the seven minutes injury time period for the Joe Willock/Oli McBurnie collision from earlier, Arsenal were by far the better side of the two, putting together some interesting moves, but sadly unable to gain further advantage before the break.
We started the second half lively enough, but it was the home side that came close to scoring when an Oli McBurnie header was easily plucked out the air by Emiliano Martínez. The much maligned David Luiz went off with an injury after fifty-three minutes, to be replaced by Rob Holding, who speedily got into position, shoring up the defence perfectly. For the next few minutes, the home side started to take the match to us, with a couple of close chances and another disallowed goal which was cancelled for offside. We looked at all at sea at the back, and the home side were looking at their options to break through and score. Lively up yourselves Arsenal! Dani Ceballos and Eddie Nketiah replaced Alexandre Lacazette and Joe Willock after sixty-six minutes (just before the drinks break) in order to seal up this cup-tie, and almost immediately one could feel thet positive change in the team; indeed a snap 25-yard effort from Granit Xhaka gave everyone confidence with sixteen minutes left of the game, in which he was unlucky not to score. With the match settling down, we started to take our eyes off the ball, and sure enough David McGoldrick equalised for the Blades with just two minutes left on the clock. Despite pressure from the home side, just a minute or so later, Dani Ceballos picked the ball up in the opposing penalty area, moved forward quickly and coolly slotted the ball home past an outstretched Dean Henderson to restore the lead to Arsenal in injury time Unbelievable drama!
Well, well, well. Who would have thought it possible? After our results recently, we get to Wembley for our thirtieth FA Cup semi-final. Who knows where this journey may now end? It wasn’t great, it wasn’t pretty football at times, but hey, we got through; let’s not think about it too much at the moment, just be thankful that the result went our way at the end. 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: Norwich City at Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU on Wednesday, 1st July at 6.00pm (Premier League). 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.