Result: Arsenal 1 – 1 Sheffield United
Competition: Premier League
Date: 18 January 2020
Venue: The Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Luiz, Saka, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette
Subs: Martinez, Holding, Bellerin, Guendouzi, Willock, Ceballos, Nketiah
Arsenal drew another league game as they hosted a solid Sheffield United side at home. Chances were at a premium at both ends but the lively Martinelli got the first goal just before half time.
Despite being on the backfoot for most of the second half, Sheffield managed to pull back a goal in the 80th minute to end the game 1-1.
Arsenal returned to home comforts as they took on a Sheffield United side defying expectations and performing well so far this season. Making it tougher for Arteta was the suspension of captain, Aubameyang, which means an under-performing Lacazette continued to lead the line with Martinelli and Pepe flanking him.
A late bug for Sokratis and injuries to both the left backs necessitated a make-shift defence with Mustafi and Saka starting at centre back and left back respectively.
The game started at a pretty fast pace as Sheffield’s midfield five were organized and tenacious in cutting off space in the centre of the park – a direct response to Arsenal’s front-footed approach.
The first 10 minutes saw Sheffield create the better chances with Arsenal’s defence looking exposed. The away team got a couple headers on goal that signalled a warning to the Gunners. This paled in comparison with Arsenal as Lacazette and Ozil struggled to knit the play higher up the field – the former at fault for trying too hard with his passes when he should have kept it simple.
But Arsenal were not without their chances. The first chance saw a move started by Lacazette who put Pepe through on goal. The Ivorian crossed for Martinelli who scuffed his volley as he took it on his weaker left foot. Pepe turned provider again for the Brazilian youngster on the 20th minute with an exhilarating jinking run from midfield, riding a couple of tackles and then releasing a final pass that Martinelli lashed wide.
It’s at this point where Arsenal regained control of the game – the Gunners winning their midfield duels and wasting no time in taking the game to Sheffield. However, Arsenal never found the incision required to carve out solid chances. Sheffield’s midfield and defence were quick to get in shape while the Arsenal defenders could have done a bit better to pass out more quickly.
Just when the first half looked to end on a whimper, Martinelli, easily Arsenal’s most energetic player on the day, put the Gunners ahead. Lacazette dropped deep outside the penalty box to lay off to Saka on the left wing. The teenager’s whipped cross was slightly deflected and Martinelli was quick to shift his run and tap in from a couple of yards away. 1-0 Arsenal.
Despite a relatively ponderous first half, Arsenal went into the dressing room ahead as they had a new challenge for the rest of the game – see out the result for the win.
His goal must have given Martinelli a boost as he had a couple of half chances within the first three minutes of the restart. A clever run almost resulted in a shot on goal but for Ozil’s uncharacteristically heavy pass. Just a minute later, David Luiz’s long punt from deep almost caught the Sheffield defence unaware. Martinelli’s quick instincts saw him go close to getting the ball if not for Henderson’s fast reactions in stepping off his line.
Sheffield were not going to take it lying down as they tightened up the reins in midfield. That pressure almost resulted in Sheffield equalizer on the 55th minute. Leno misjudged coming out for the ball on a corner and Mcburnie had his header cleared off the line by an alert Xhaka.
Chances have been at a premium throughout the game and Arsenal had a chance to seal the game on the 66th minute as Pepe looked to have been tripped in the box while dribbling towards goal. Despite a check with VAR, the decision was incredulously not given to the Gunners. Scandalous refereeing right there.
It was homecoming for Eddie Nketiah as the returning youngster came on for Lacazette on 70th minute to save the Frenchman’s legs for the mid-week game against Chelsea and test the tiring Sheffield defence.
Sheffield haven’t looked too threatening for the most of the second half but just 10 minutes from time, the Blades found their equalizer. They whipped in a tantalizing cross from the right which Maitland-Niles could only head towards the direction of Fleck. Fleck hit his half volley with venom, bouncing off the ground and deceiving Leno as it went into the back of the net. 1-1 Sheffield.
Sheffield almost wrapped up all three points after Mustafi gave away the ball on the halfway line. The Blades were quick in their transition and McBurnie’s strike from the middle of the box was blocked by Maitland-Niles who was well-placed to keep the Gunners in the game.
In the end, Arsenal had to settle for a point in a game where a lack of firepower and chance creation was the team’s Achilles heel despite the players putting in strong shift.