PREVIEW: Arsenal vs Sheffield United, Sunday October, 2pm
by Mark Rowntree
Chris Wilder’s Blades make the journey south from the steel city in need of points and goals to kick-start their Premier League season ahead of the forthcoming international break.
United enjoyed a stellar first season back in the top-flight (first since 2006-07) but the signs haven’t been overly encouraging for their supporters since re-emerging from lockdown.
United have lost six straight in the Premier League since hammering Chelsea (3-0) in early July, scoring just a single goal in the process (at Southampton). As a result of their shaky start to the new season they prop up the table after three games alongside newly-promoted Fulham.
Wolves rocked their confidence with a flying start in the opening game, and although the Blades reacted well in the immediate aftermath the damage was done.
Unfortunately, it was a very similar story in their second game at Aston Villa when John Egan saw red for an early professional foul and a brilliant penalty save from debutant Emi Martinez stopped John Lundstram from providing Sheffield United with a foothold in otherwise difficult circumstances.
Furthermore, crashing out of the EFL Cup on penalties at Burnley and a narrow defeat in a traditionally hard-fought Yorkshire derby against Leeds has capped a woeful start to the season for the Red and Whites.
Arsenal certainly had their fair share of difficulties against a hardy United side in the Premier League last season, although Gunners fans will fondly recall the dramatic late winner from Dani Ceballos in the quarter final of the FA Cup.
In last season’s Premier League clash at the Emirates, the boot was on the other foot with an 83rd minute John Fleck equaliser denying Arsenal all three points. Interestingly that game early in the New Year featured a certain Mesut Ozil, who has played only five league games since.
Despite the added weight of fan expectation on Arsenal to take all three points on Sunday, it’s important to highlight that a patient approach will be needed in order to break down their traditionally compact and physical visitors.
It’s also relevant to note that Sheffield United arrive fresh off the back of a solid week of training and diligent preparation while Arsenal have faced a couple of demanding away trips to Anfield.
Mikel Arteta was in philosophical mood after the 3-1 Premier League defeat at Anfield where he said: “We are on a different journey to Liverpool. We just accept that they were better, and that they are better at the moment, and that we have to improve. This is the level that we have to reach.”
Any neutral examining Arsenal could feasibly form the opinion that the Gunners haven’t made quite as much progress as the majority of their own fan base think, although the acid test to that school of thought will surely come in more relevant games against the likes of Leicester, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Evidently Arteta is still assessing his strongest options defensively with David Luiz and Gabriel both vying for a place in the starting line-up, and in all fairness it will take a certain amount of time for Willian to build a strong working relationship
After the heartache of missing out on a European adventure, Sheffield United fans will be hoping to avoid the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.
The Blades clearly have a few immediate issues to work through, but let’s be abundantly clear we shouldn’t expect a Huddersfield style collapse. The loss of goalkeeper Dean Henderson to Manchester United has put a sizeable dent in their defence while a foot/tendon injury (in pre-season) has robbed the Blades of the creative attacker Lys Mousset.
Furthermore, with the Scottish powerhouse Oli McBurnie enduring a prolonged
No doubt buoyed by Thursday’s penalty shootout success, Arsenal start as odds-on favourites (4-7) to take all three points from this fixture, with the draw at 31-10 and a Sheffield United win at 11-2.
However, I anticipate that this game will be a rather dull, tight and trappy affair which doesn’t make for a great deal of appeal for betting purposes. Arsenal will surely have the bulk of possession (similar to Leeds last weekend) but will need to work hard to unlock the back door of the Sheffield United defence. Therefore, for small stakes we’ll plump for the traditional ‘1-nil to the Arsenal’ at 5-1.
Under 2.5 Goals
Arsenal to win 1-0