Sheffield United (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 3
Bramall Lane, Highfield, Sheffield S2 4SU
Sunday, 11th April 2021. Kick-off time: 7.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Bukayo Saka; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Magalhães, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan, Miguel Azeez.
Scorers: Alexandre Lacazette (33, 85 mins), Gabriel Martinelli (71 mins)
Yellow Cards: Pablo Marí
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 55%
Referee: Peter Bankes
Assistant Referees: Neil Davies, James Mainwaring
Fourth Official: Lee Mason
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jarred Gillett; AVAR Stephen Child
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not available for selection tonight due to a bout of influenza apparently, and Martin Ødegaard is also unavailable because of an ankle issue. As we already know, unfortunately Kieran Tierney could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, and David Luiz is also sidelined after recent knee surgery. Let’s go!
A very strong start from the chaps, with Bukayo Saka getting close to scoring with a strong shot that sailed over the bar from fairly close range. The opening exchanges of the match have shown us to be the stronger of the two sides, and although the home side are looking fairly well organised, we look the more likely team to open the scoring. It is becoming apparent that Granit Xhaka is drifting into the left-back area as the home side move forward, when by rights, he should in midfield, but tonight he appears to be playing as a traditional left full-back in the continued absence of Kieran Tierney, which could be for a while, by all accounts. Gabriel Martinelli was unlucky not to score when he moved quickly into the Blades’ penalty area after receiving a superb ball from Alexandre Lacazette, but his effort was parried by Aaron Ramsdale for an Arsenal corner, which was wasted. We certainly had the better of the play with great movement on and off the ball, but with the home side defending in numbers, breaking through the red-and-white striped shirts was proving difficult. However, just after the half-hour mark, Alexandre Lacazette quickly passed the ball to Bukayo Saka and then went on an unchecked run; in the meantime, Bukayo Saka found Dani Ceballos who played a truly beautiful backheel pass onto the path of Alexandre Lacazette who coolly slotted the ball home into the bottom corner of the Sheffield United net for the opening goal of the match. Superb and simply sublime. A couple of minutes’ later, Bukayo Saka ran onto a through ball from Dani Ceballos, but Aaron Ramsdale saved comfortably from point-blank range. Since the goal was scored, our confidence was certainly there for all to see, with pinpoint passing, and intelligent running off the ball which only served to unsettle the Sheffield United defenders. A couple of minutes before the break, Bernd Leno made a comfortable save from John Egan that looked a whole lot worse than it actually was, and despite a couple of good chances and a corner from Nicolas Pépé that looked as if something was going to happen (but never did), that was pretty much it for the first half, apart from a strange incident on the cusp of injury time following the Nicolas Pépé corner that VAR wanted to check for a possible handball against Oli Norwood, which was denied anyway.
The second half started with a flurry of activity from the home side, which soon petered out, and as far as we were concerned, normal service started to resume some five minutes or so after the restart. We controlled the match quite comfortably despite one or two dodgy moments, and we now started to move foward with ease, and both Dani Ceballos and Alexandre Lacazette were desperately unlucky not to score with good, strong shots on goal. The home side started to hold up play, as they had the inability to stop us, but still we kept coming forward. Gabriel Martinelli picked up an slight injury, but more worryingly, Bukayo Saka looked like he pulled up with a muscle problem after sixty-five minutes, and taking no chances, Mikel Arteta replaced him with Willian for the rest of the match. With nineteen minutes left on the clock, a Nicolas Pépé shot was parried by Aaron Ramsdale into the path of Gabriel Martinelli, who scored with a simple tap in for his first goal since January 2020! With the pressure off, we started to play with a bit less worry, which was great to see. Mohamed Elneny replaced Gabriel Martinelli as a cautionary measure with eight minutes of the match remaining, and three minutes later, Alexandre Lacazette ran onto a pass from Thomas Partey, and comfortably and confidently scored his second goal of the night (and our third), by blasting the ball past Aaron Ramsdale and into the corner of the net. That was virtually his last action of the match tonight, as shortly afterwards, he was replaced by Eddie Nketiah for the remainder of the game. Despite one or two chances in which we could have possibly scored one or two more goals, we were comfortable and generally sailed to the final whistle with no further problems at all.
All in all, it was a good win with essentially very few issues, although the injury sustained by Bukayo Saka is a worry, especially with such a big match to play on Thursday evening. Shall we get this game into perspective now? Not wishing to be picky or anything, but our unfortunate opponents tonight are all but relegated, with a caretaker manager, and having lost twenty-five matches this season, it would be something akin to a miracle if they survive. As we know, the real match is in Prague on Thursday evening, and if things go wrong out there, then the earth may just open up and swallow everyone.
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: Slavia Prague at Sinobo Stadium on Thursday, 15th April at 8.00pm (Europa 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.