Arsenal (0) 2 Sheffield United (0) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 4th October 2020. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(3-4-3) Bernd Leno; Gabriel Magalhães, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney; Hector Bellerin, Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos, Bukayo Saka; Willian Borges da Silva, Eddie Nketiah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Joe Willock, Granit Xhaka.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (61 mins), Nicolas Pépé (64 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 65%
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistant Referees: Mark Scholes, Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: Robert Jones
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Andre Marriner; AVAR Peter Kirkup
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restructions
Great to get back home for today’s match, especially after the victory over Liverpool at Anfield in the Carabao Cup three days ago. The match here this afternoon will be the last game the chaps will play for a fortnight, due to the international break next weekend, so it will be important to pick up three points in order to go into the hiatus with our tails up. The omens are in our favour, as the last time the Blades defeated us at home in the league (pre-Premiership days) was back on 24th August 1971, when a Stewart Scullion goal gave them victory in front of 45,395 spectators (including the writer of this review) at The Old Place. Back to the present day; we welcome back to the first-team line-up a rejuvenated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who will of course be more than keen to get on the scoresheet today, as will be our young guns Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah. Let’s go!
Straight from the off, we pressed the visitors with intent firmly back into their own half, and within three minutes, Eddie Nketiah had the ball taken from his toes by the Blades’ goalie, who pushed the ball away for a corner. We played with confidence in the opening quarter of an hour, with superb passing that led to penetrating balls into the visitors’ penalty area, which gave our forwards many opportunities to score. Although the visitors started to bring the match us, which led to some interesting defensive challenges, we were not unduly worried by their attacks on our goal. Patiently, we slowly started to break down the Sheffield United defence, applying pressure on them; strangely, the Blades started to look oddly comfortable with the situation, whilst we were trying to find more and more new ways to score the opening goal. On the half hour, Kieran Tierney crossed the ball for Eddie Nketiah to head the ball down towards the United goal, but it was easily parried by the goalkeeper. Again, Eddie Nketiah turned and got a shot towards the goal, but it was blocked by a defender, and despite some really good efforts from our forwards, especially a right-footed shot from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the left side of the penalty area which was saved arobatically by the visitors’ goalkeeper. And so we went into the break high on the possession percentage, but honours even, and frustratingly so, it has to be said.
And so, the second half started, with no changes from Mikel Arteta, which came as some surprise under the circumstances. Both sides started to play with far more urgency in the opening minutes of the second half than they did in the last quarter of an hour of the first; however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came extremely close to opening the scoring seven minutes after the restart, and we appeared to be trying to take the match by the scruff of the neck at last. Eddie Nketiah was replaced by Nicolas Pépé after fifty-eight minutes, and within a couple of minutes we took the lead with a superbly taken goal by Bukayo Saka. Some sharp, incisive link play in the visitors’ penalty area, which saw Hector Bellerin take the ball to the byline, cross the ball over the head of the Blades’ defenders, for young Bukayo Saka to finish the job with an accurate header into the net. Just over three minutes later, we scored again, when Nicolas Pépé collected a pass from Hector Bellerin and ran through the visitors’ defence to slot a beautiful left-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net, for our second goal of the day. Of course, two goals in such quick succession lifted our spirits, and our control of the game was there for all to see, wth more spring in our step and another level of confidence as well. Sheffield United were resorted to trying long-range shots, which Bernd Leno managed to save with ease, and with ten minutes remaining, Dani Ceballos was substituted by Granit Xhaka in order to add another man to the defensive plan. However, unbelievably, with seven minutes left on the clock, David McGoldrick got one back for the Blades with a left-footed shot from outside the penalty area that went past an outstretched Bernd Leno into the left-hand corner of the net. Almost immediately, Mikel Arteta replaced Bukayo Saka with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, just to get some fresh legs out there to try and ensure our victory. It certainly did that, and the win meant that we were fourth in the Premiership table.
Let’s be honest, it was not one of the great performances of the season, not was it thrilling either. We could have easily been down to ten men quite early on when David Luiz pulled back Oliver Burke, with Bernd Leno coming out of his box to clear the threat, but both the referee and the Stockley Park gang did not pursue the incident further, which was a blessing. Our inability to shut down David McGoldrick as he took the shot that became the visitors’ goal was a concern, but in the end we picked up three points, something that we can all be extremly thankful for.
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: Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday 17th October at 3.00pm (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.