Changes for Arsenal – with the out of favour Guendouzi and Ozil not even in the squad. In came Kolasinac, Maitland Niles, Lacazette and David Luiz.
Would Luiz, who took a pay-cut to extend his contract shake off his unfortunate form? Could Lacazette get back in goal-scoring form? Would the defensive organisation which showed improvement at Southampton, continue? And could Arsenal get one over on a team above them in the league? What effect would the lack of a home crowd – seemingly so important, be on this team, particularly in an FA Cup Quarter Final?
Arsenal lined up 3 at the back – matching Sheffield United. An interesting clash of styles was in the offing with United relying more on long balls up to McGoldrick and McBurnie, and Arsenal playing through midfield.
Norwood sent a free kick across the Arsenal area as a warning they had pin-pointed Arsenal’s weakness at set-pieces.
And lo and behold in the first ten, from a corner, McBurnie beat Xhaka and Lundstram headed home ahead of Lacazette. To the naked eye it looked like a goal – but Lundstram was ahead of the Frenchman when the ball was headed across the line.
On 12, a long throw glanced off Mustafi and the ball flashed across the area with McGoldrick failing to connect by a whisker.
Maitland-Niles came in with a great tackle off the breaking McGoldrick.
Arsenal attacks were breaking down before they reached the United area.
The first Arsenal ball into the box was with Pepe getting to the byline and crossing for Lacazette – but it was intercepted by Basham.
A ball in from Tierney saw Basham go into the back of Lacazette just inside the area. On balance a penalty and Pepe drove it hard and low to the right – with a short run up. The celebrations were muted to say the least – maybe part of his laid-back character?
The goal seemed to inject more energy into the Arsenal attack. Lacazette flicked a one-two with Pepe who fired a shot which Henderson pushed wide.
A fierce cross by Pepe was parried by Henderson – ending up with Tierney firing past the post.
Martinez set up Willock with a long clearance who sent it left to Tierney for a low cross to Pepe who fired wide. Neat move.
Arsenal defended deep when United were on the attack – with at least five and sometimes even Lacazette back in the area.
As with the Southampton game, Sheffield came out for the second half with more attacking intent.
A long flat throw came into the Arsenal area and McBurnie won the header which went straight to Martinez.
Holding came on for the injured Luiz.
Henderson sent a goal kick which bounced near to the Arsenal top corner. Martinez made out that he had it covered – but it was close.
Robinson fizzed a cross in and Basham diving in the six-yard box headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Ceballos came on for Willock, and Nketiah on for Lacazette.
The increasingly impressive Tierney, crossed well and Xhaka fired a strong shot on target – but was blocked by Basham.
I had expected more physicality form this Sheffield side. Maybe it is the raucous home support which fires the aggression. But as the half wore on, the Blades became more physical. Robinson scythed down Nketiah when he was breaking away and was booked, as was Fleck in the first half. And McBurnie pushed Kolasinac with undue force to the ground – but nothing was given
After several probes, another long throw into the Arsenal area saw Martinez retreat, Holding miss a header and Kolasinac hitting it straight at Holding and up in the air for McGoldrick to fire at close range past Martinez.
Sheffield went on the offensive, buoyed by the goal. But one of Arsenal’s emerging strengths is the counterattack. A midfield break from Saka saw the ball moved to Nketiah who sent an angled pass to the edge of the area to Pepe who momentarily lost it. Ceballos picked it up and with everyone expecting a cut back drove it past Henderson from a narrow angle at his near post.
After the match Mustafi said the team showed character and the win against Southampton helped get back confidence.
“Sometimes you see what the opponent does. It is not easy. Everyone presses you.
“The team believes in how we want to pay football. It is a process and we have to believe in that process. We are developing ideas the coach is giving us and we go with it.”
On his colleague David Luiz and the criticism, he said: “At the end of the day we are human – we make mistakes. He is experienced enough and a fantastic teammate providing a lot of life in dressing room. He has a lot of experience. He’s a big personality – we are happy to have him in the team.”
Mikel Arteta said: “We are pleased to be back at Wembley. This is tough place. We fight. I liked the attitude of the team. They are really good at what they do and put us under pressure – especially the second phase. We dealt with it for long periods of the game.”
Asked about the younger players positive contribution, he said: “Yes, young players are evolving and willing to have the personality to play, “pointing to the way Eddie [Nketiah] came on and fought.
“We’ve had four away games after the virus – hopefully, we’ll get some momentum going.
“We have a massive gap and have to improve in many areas. It is a process but a bit stop and start.”
Sheff Utd: Henderson, Basham (Substituted for Sharp at 75), Egan, Robinson (Booked at 75), Baldock (Substituted for Freeman at 62), Lundstram (Substituted for Berge at 35), Norwood, Fleck (Booked at 31), Stevens, McBurnie, McGoldrick
Arsenal: Martínez, Mustafi, David Luiz (Substituted for Holding at 54), Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Willock (Substituted for Ceballo sat 67),Tierney, Pépé (Substituted for Papastathopoulo sat 90+3) Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 67), Saka.