Result: Sheffield United 1-2 Arsenal
Competition: FA Cup quarter-final
Date: 28 June 2020
Venue: Bramall Lane
Starting lineup: Martinez, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Willock, Saka, Pepe, Lacazette
Subs: Macey, Bellerin, Sokratis, Holding, Smith, Ceballos, Nelson, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Dani Ceballos came off the bench to grab a stoppage time winner at Bramall Lane as Arsenal progressed to the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Sheffield United.
The Gunners were the better side in the first half and took the lead from Pepe’s spot-kick after Alex Lacazette had been fouled. However, the Blades cut a far more determined outfit after the break and had a number of chances to equalise before David McGoldrick volleyed home with three minutes remaining.
It looked like the game might be heading to extra-time only for Ceballos to calmly stroke home a surprising winner.
A fourth away game in 12 days was always going to test the fitness of Mikel Arteta’s squad so it was little surprise that the Spaniard opted to rotate. In total, there were five changes to the lineup that started at St Mary’s on Wednesday. We lined up in a 3-4-3 formation with David Luiz, back from suspension, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac making up the backline. Kieran Tierney and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, in for Bellerin, provided the width as wing-backs with Joe Willock and Granit Xhaka in the middle. Lacazette led the line with Saka and Pepe alongside him. Mesut Ozil missed out with a slight back injury and Matteo Guendouzi was again left at home.
The home side had promised a fast start and Chris Wilder’s players delivered exactly that with an aerial bombardment towards strike duo McBurnie and McGoldrick that had us at sixes and sevens straight away.
The Blades thought they had the lead after eight minutes when Lundstrum headed home on the line after a corner to the far post was played back across the six-yard box. Thankfully, VAR came to the rescue. The midfielder was a yard offside.
There was another scare a couple of moments later when Mustafi and McBurnie both challenged for a dangerous throw-in hurled into our box. The ball flashed just wide of Martinez’s post.
We settled down after that but didn’t really threaten. Our possession felt ponderous and the our only opening was a Pepe cross to the near post that was cleared for a corner.
A rash challenge by Basham on Lacazette saw the momentum change. Tierney played a pass to the Frenchman just inside the box and his ankles were clipped. The referee was quick to point to the spot. A VAR check confirmed the penalty. Lacazette might normally have taken responsibility but having received treatment he deferred to Pepe. The Ivorian found the bottom right corner to net his eighth goal of the season. (1-0)
As the half wore on, we started to impose ourselves on the game but it was a very bitty affair. The rhythm was sapped by fouls, the drinks break, a couple of head clashes which required treatment and even more fouls.
Pepe was by far our biggest threat and had two more decent chances to score. A minute after his opener he hammered a left-foot effort from outside the box that Henderson pushed around the post and towards the 45-minute mark he put a Tierney cutback wide after a slick, flowing move.
Tierney tried his luck from the edge of the box and Norwood tested Martinez but that was about it despite seven minutes of stoppage time.
Rob Holding was an early replacement for David Luiz seven minutes after the break. The Brazilian went down after the shielding the ball out of play and knew straight away he was in trouble. He was later seen on the bench with an ice pack on his knee.
In the 10 minutes that followed, we were run ragged and survived three scares. First, a wind-assisted goal kick by Henderson had Martinez back peddling. The Argentine seemed calm enough even though the ball bounced just over his crossbar.
Egan then had an effort ruled out for offside when another set-piece caused havoc. Basham then headed a Norwood cross wide when it looked easier to score.
Arteta reacted with a double change, sending on Nketiah and Ceballos for Lacazette and Willock. It didn’t make too much difference. As was the case in the second half at Southampton, we really struggled to get going.
Xhaka did have a piledriver from 25-yards blocked by a defender and Tierney’s overlapping runs were a bright spark. On 80 minutes he nearly found Pepe. But not quite. It was very much that type of game for the men in yellow who seemed torn between going for a second and not committing men forward.
Inside the final three minutes, Sheffield United finally got their goal. Another throw into our six-yard box should have been dealt with easily by Kolasinac, instead, he volleyed into Holding and the ball bounced kindly for McGoldrick to volley home. (1-1)
Were it not for Martinez, things might have got even worse. The Argentine got down well at his near post to deny Sharp. At this point, if you were placing a bet on who’d win, you’d be piling your cash on the home side.
Amazingly, you’d have lost. A minute into stoppage time, Ceballos pounced on a loose ball in the Blades’ box to pass the ball past Henderson at his near post. A very unlikely winner and one that, thankfully, denied us an additional 30 minutes of awful football. (2-1)
So, we’re off to Wembley. Our hopes of a 14th FA Cup triumph and a place in the Europa League remain alive. It wasn’t pretty – it so rarely is these days – but that will further boost morale.