The match provided a good test for Arsenal. Sheffield United had only conceded 7 goals in 8 Premiership matches. Arsenal had lost on their last three visits here.
Could the Londoners’ defensive organisation cope with the home team’s wandering centre halves? Could Arsenal match Sheffield’s physicality? Could they overcome a poor record away to newly promoted sides? Could the team add to better away Premiership performances and results this season? And rise to third in the table in the process.
Early pressure came from Sheffield, with Norwood pulling the strings.
A Pepe break saw the ball crossed but no-one following up followed by a couple of Arsenal corners. On the second Egan clearly tugged Sokratis’s shirt –but is was ‘Mike Deaned’.
Arsenal’s kicks from defence were cause for concern. Even if the first press was broken, attacks broke down regularly in midfield – a key difference between Arsenal away and Liverpool and Man City away.
Fleck clattered into Aubameyang and was yellowed.
Pepe broke from defence and sent a midfield pass to Xhaka who found Kolasinac via Saka, who sent in a perfect cross but Pepe running in took it with his left instead of right and a clear chance was missed.
On 22 Xhaka made his customary regulation unnecessary foul – leading to a dangerous free kick.
Chambers cleared a dangerous cross – proving one advantage of a taller right back. Although at times in attack he lacked the necessary mobility or agility to beat his man.
On 30 a flat low corner was headed down by O’Connell to an unmarked Mousset, played onside by Xhaka, who fired home from close range. Three Arsenal players went for the ball O’Connell won – with huge unmarked space in the six yard box.
Saka had one of the few Arsenal chances of the first half and fell in the area after clashing – and a super enthusiastic Dean ran brandishing a yellow card.
Arsenal gained around 80% possession in the last 15 minutes of the first half and Xhaka had a couple of chances. One, a volley from outside the area was saved spectacularly by Henderson. The other, a looping header from a corner just cleared the bar.
Ceballos came on for Willock at the start of the second – playing more on the left. It wasn’t long before Xhaka made a mistake leaving the ball instead of controlling it.
And space appeared in Arsenal’s defence with alarming ease with Kolasinac ball-watching as it came to Mousset.
The Bosnian stood off from another United chance soon after.
Ceballos was having an influence – with more touches in the Sheffield half than Arsenal had in the first half – but sometimes his distribution was wayward.
Although Arsenal had most of possession, as so often happens in games, Sheffield had the better chances.
Lacazette on for Xhaka drew a foul from McGoldrick in a dangerous area, but Pepe’s shot was telegraphed and too slow.
The Ivory Coast forward then made space for a left foot shot, but it went wide and soon after an ineffective cross he was substituted for Martinelli.
Sheffield switched from a 4-5-1 to a 5-4-1 with Basham floating. And they saw out the game with some stout defending.
The performance wasn’t the worst. But a depressing result.
Unai Emery said the team conceded more corners than necessary, said it was a penalty in the first half and should have been ‘VARRED’ and strangely: “We prepare for the matches the same home and away and think to win.”
Perhaps some positives can be taken from the day’s gossip – that Arsenal are leading the chase for RB Leipzig’s France Under-21 defender Dayot Upamecano, 20 – valued at £50m. Fans could be forgiven for thinking what if …
But that is in the realms of fantasy. The reality in the cold Northern steel city is that Arsenal’s defensive organisation away from home let them down again and the attack with plenty of potential, failed to deliver.
Sheff Utd: Henderson (Booked at 75) Basham, Egan O’Connell (Booked at 39), Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood (Substituted for McBurnie at 85), Fleck (Booked at 15), Stevens, McGoldrick (Booked at 66), Substituted for Freeman at 78), Mousset (Substituted for Sharp at 56)
Arsenal: Leno,Chambers (Booked at 90), Papastathopoulos (Booked at 86), David Luiz, Kolasinac (Booked at 67), Guendouzi, Xhaka (Substituted for Lacazette at 69), Pépé (Substituted for Martinelli at 78), Willock (Substituted for Ceballos at 45),Saka (Booked at 35), Aubameyang