The normal five talking points ahead this evening’s visit to Sheffield United in the Premier League…
It’s been a while
Even though Sheffield United have only enjoyed a solitary season in the Premier League (aside from the current one) since being relegation in 25 years ago in 1994, there was a period when it felt like Arsenal always seemed to be playing them. Between January 1996 and September 2008, the teams met ten times, only two of those matches being league fixtures. And I’m only including the infamous 1999 FA Cup match re-staged due to a disputed ‘unfair play goal’ once. Four of the ten matches took place in Sheffield, and two of those were home wins, including the last Premier League game between the two. Arsenal have faced the Blades four times at Bramall Lane in the top flight since their last win there – all the way back in 1991. Let’s hope those holding Arsenal tickets do not have a miserable trip home, because yes, the opposition may be newly promoted, but this match is no gimme.
Having said that…
Six of the Blades’ nine points so far this season have come on the road, where they are unbeaten in four matches. You’d think at home, it would be something of a fortress, but since an opening day victory against Crystal Palace, they have lost to Leicester, Southampton and Liverpool (although that last one was a consequence of a keeper howler in a game they deserved to draw). The performance against the league leaders suggests that Arsenal will have to work hard to create opportunities, and that Chris Wilder’s side will focus more on nullifying the Gunners’ attack rather than taking the game to their visitors. Looking too closely at the home form and feeling complacent is not recommended. Emery’s team will have to work hard to get the three points they need to return to third place. It’s a potential ‘it’s grim ‘oop north’ midweek evening game scenario – although the BBC weather forecast at least indicates it won’t be too wet, windy or cold. I predict we’ll still see a few pairs of unnecessary gloves amongst the Arsenal side though.
A clean slate for the team selection
Lucas Torreira flew back from Uruguay duty on Thursday, but didn’t come off the bench in the game the previous evening, and with three days to get over any jet lag, that should not count against him in Unai Emery’s reckoning. So in theory, team selection should not be compromised by who did and didn’t play in Arsenal’s last game. Sure, the rotation is about to come thick and fast, with matches this evening, Thursday, then Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday, but as far as the Premier League goes, the likes of Bellerin, Tierney and Holding are all fit, and more to the point match fit enough to start this evening. One imagines that Alex Lacazette is also fit to start, and you’d think he would given this is on paper the most difficult match when compared with Vitoria and Palace at home over the following six days. So maybe we’ll get an idea of Unai Emery’s genuine first choice eleven tonight.
Time to get philosophical about Sokratis?
If Emery does promote Rob Holding to the starting eleven, either of David Luiz or Sokratis will have to make way. Last season, up until Holding suffered his injury at Old Trafford, he and Sokratis showed signs of forming a decent partnership. The only problem now is that, a year on, the Greek defender seems past his best, not having enjoyed a great season up to now. Still, you could make the same argument about David Luiz, who has been partially responsible for more than one goal which has cost his team points. And of course, Emery being Emery, who is to say he won’t simply leave his centre back partnership used in recent league game games intact, with Holding on the bench. It wouldn’t make sense, but one thing’s for sure, it’s hard work second guessing Unai.
Do the youngsters drop down?
Let’s say Emery started Lacazette and Pepe alongside the certain pick of Aubmaeyang in the front three. Buyako Saka is then on the bench. There won’t be any youngsters along the backline, even if you still count Ainsley Maitland-Niles as one. Bellerin will surely start, but if he doesn’t, Calum Chambers now seems to be the deputy right-back. That leaves us with midfield and Joe Willock competing with Xhaka, Guendouzi, Torreira and Ceballos for a starting berth. Given this is a Monday evening up north, you could foresee Ceballos being on the bench, but surely Xhaka and Guendouzi will get picked. So Joe Willock will be up against Lucas Torreira if there is to be a single home-grown youngster in the Arsenal eleven. My money’s on the Uruguayan.
Surely Sheffield United’s woeful home form cannot continue forever, they even lost to Sunderland in the Carabao Cup. So maybe it’s law of averages time. Having said that, this should be a full strength Arsenal, and we wait to see what impact Tierney and the return of Bellerin bring to the side. So on one level, Emery’s side should have too much for their hosts, but we’ve seen some strange results already in this Premier League season, so you cannot take anything for granted. This though, is a great opportunity and truth to tell, given how poor Chris Wilder’s team have been at home so far, it would be a disappointment if Emery’s team did not enjoy a “good ebening” and return to third place in the table. Here’s hoping!
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