Following a disappointing draw in the Europa League, Arsenal are staring down the barrel of yet another season without European football. That coupled with injuries to key players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney and Martin Ødegaard, Arsenal fans could be excused for thinking that luck is very much against them at the moment.
However, a trip to Sheffield United was a good chance to right the wrongs of Thursday night and to get back to winning ways, given Sheffield United’s position and being on course for one of the worst finishes ever seen in a Premier League relegation scrap.
Arsenal started the game at a thunderous pace. The selection of Gabriel Martinelli seemed to pay dividends early on as Arsenal began to attack with real gusto, the Brazilian coming close on a number of occasions.
The freedom of Bukayo Saka in the middle of the park seemed to really open up Arsenal creatively, who were able to expand the play to the flanks with relative ease.
It was totally unsurprising (which is in itself surprising) to see Arsenal take the lead early on. Excellent work from Saka in the middle of the park, saw him link up well with Thomas Partey and Dani Ceballos, who’s backheeled pass found its way into Alexandre Lacazette’s path, who promptly curled the ball into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead.
It was a goal with class written all over it and with the sort of creative flair that Arsène Wenger would have been proud of.
It was therefore surprising to see half-time beckon with Arsenal only a goal to the good. Arsenal had been putting Sheffield to the sword all half and were perhaps unlucky not to be two or three up.
The second-half saw a more improved performance from Sheffield United, who began to start creating chances, but they were still far behind Arsenal, who stepped things up a gear.
Before long, Arsenal found themselves two-up, when Nicolas Pépé’s effort was palmed out by Aaron Ramsdale into the path of Gabriel Martinelli, who promptly dispatched a deserved goal for both club and player.
Martinelli had been playing so well all game that to grab a goal was a worthy return for the youngster.
Finally, Arsenal wrapped things up in style. A terrific turn on the halfway line from Thomas Partey and a slide-rule pass saw him dispatch Lacazette once more. Whatever doubts Arsenal fans had about the Frenchman following his disappointing miss against Slavia Prague in midweek were quickly assuaged as the former Lyon man buried the ball in the near corner, sending Ramsdale the wrong way and grabbing his 50th Premier League goal in Arsenal colours.
From there, Arsenal were able to take their foot off the proverbial gas and cruise until the final-whistle.
It was an outstanding performance, as unique in its quality as it was typical in its frustration from fans who will no doubt be wondering why Arsenal are so incapable of producing performances akin to this every week.
Mikel Arteta rolled the dice a little with his tactical selections. Given the absence of Kieran Tierney, Arsenal decided to play Granit Xhaka at left-back. Though Xhaka is no stranger to the position, having featured there a few times under Unai Emery, it was a little surprising to see that Bukayo Saka, who deputised in the role for most of last season, was given the chance in the middle of the park instead.
Though Xhaka’s performance was likely helped by Sheffield United’s total unwillingness to attack, the Swiss international should be commended for a composed and assured performance as Arsenal managed to keep their first clean sheet in fourteen games.
The performance of Gabriel Martinelli was also hugely encouraging. In recent months, Arsenal have been perhaps a little goal-shy and scared to take on the shot whenever the situation calls for it, however, Martinelli faced no such qualms, testing keeper Aaron Ramsdale at every opportunity he could and his goal was a worthy return for such a brilliant performance.
Elsewhere, Alexandre Lacazette’s performance in midweek seemed to serve as the catalyst for the striker’s performance in front of goal. His composure, link-up play and dogged determination were essential to Arsenal’s victory and he showed Mikel Arteta that there is still a player here willing to fight, not just for his place, but for the good of the team.
The biggest game of Arsenal’s season so far beckons on Thursday night, with Arsenal in dire need of an away goal or else face elimination, but with a performance like this, Arsenal can go in confident, if nothing else.
1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
8.) Dani Ceballos
19.) Nicolas Pépé
7.) Bukayo Saka (Willian 69’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Elneny 83’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazete (c) (Nketiah 89’)
33.) Maty Ryan
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
24.) Reiss Nelson
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Sheffield United team:
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
22.) Ethan Ampadu
12.) John Egan
3.) Enda Stevens
2.) George Baldock
7.) John Lundstram
16.) Ollie Norwood (c)
4.) John Fleck
23.) Ben Osborn
14.) Ollie Burke (Brewster 64’)
17.) David McGoldrick (McBurnie 64’) (Mousset 83’)
Sheffield United subs:
18.) Wes Foderingham
15.) Phil Jagielka
20.) Jayden Bogle
13.) Max Lowe
29.) Kean Bryan
34.) Iliman Ndiaye
11.) Lys Mousset
9.) Oli McBurnie
24.) Rhian Brewster