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Arsenal wake up in time to beat Sheffield United

Arteta says after Premier League win: 'We had the right patience'

04 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley at Emirates Stadium

FA Premier League
ARSENAL 2 (Saka 61, Pepe 64)
SHEFFIELD UNITED 1 (McGoldrick 83)

IF you are a fan of ‘patient build-ups’, this was the match for you.

Only trouble was, Arsenal’s attempt to be patient risked losing everybody else’s patience. Viewers at home may have been lulled into a comatose haze by the time the right combination of passes unlocked Sheffield United this afternoon (Sunday).

The days of adventure, of being 2-0 up inside half an hour, playing incisive triangles, seem to have gone, left for the likes of Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and others to reminisce about. At the moment, every match at the Emirates feels like a needlessly complicated riddle.

There is a thin line between playing out from the back and preserving possession at all costs, and being blunt and ineffective. As it was, for the best part of an hour, Arsenal presided over a dry and monotonous exchange of passes, often turning back and starting again.

It’s not total football to have a throw-in close to your opponent’s penalty area and use it to carefully work the ball back to your own goalkeeper. Luiz to Elneny, Elneny to Luiz, to Leno, to Luiz, the pattern lacked any bite or imagination.

The inclusion of Luiz does not engender optimism in all Arsenal fans. His early tug of Oliver Burke’s shirt – he just can’t help himself – could have been costly if the officials had been in stern mood. For a player who has won so much and earned so much, it still feels the chain of passing and control could break down if he was distracted by a passing seagull or an unusual divot in the turf.

And what of Eddie Nketiah too, preferred up front today amid an unforgiving rush of fixtures.

He is by no means a terrible player, but again he seemed unwilling or unable to make runs off the ball to provide the boggy midfield with options. Instead, balls were played sideways or through unlikely gaps, and Nketiah’s only effort was an unlikely flicked header that failed to raise any alarm bells among the visitors. It was a three or four out of ten performance.

At the same time, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the star man, is falling behind if he wants to compete for the golden boot again, forced out onto the wing and asked to work harder than any other contender for the top-scoring prize.

The only real moment of excitement in the first half, in fact, came when Aubameyang drifted inside to try and create a chance for himself – as nobody else was making one for him – and shot from long range. Blades goalkeeper David Ramsdale stretched and diverted the ball over the bar.

The second half did not start too much better either, but Dani Ceballos seemed to tire of playing things square and began pushing better balls forward.

The streets around the Emirates Stadium remain closed and deserted on matchdays

But it was the introduction of Nicolas Pepe for Nketiah that finally sounded a wake-up call.

Shortly after coming on Pepe was involved in the patient build-up to the opening goal, although it was Hector Bellerin, one of the more positive players all afternoon and showing some of his old sparkle, whose cross finally found Bukayo Saka at the back post.

The new No. 7, called up by England earlier this week, squeezed his header past Ramsdale.

Within a couple of minutes, Arsenal suddenly were strutting to a two-nothing scoreline.

Pepe burst in from the flank and had no intention of passing. Instead, he wrapped a low shot into the bottom corner; exactly the kind of attack and goal that Gunners fans are desperate to see from him and others.

These goals were enough to win the match but Sheffield United caused some late frights when midfielder David McGoldrick curled home a stunning consolation strike. This led to five minutes of throws and corners into the box, which Arsenal cleared with varying levels of composure.

They saw it out though and will be reminded how great it is to win when not being at your best. They weren’t anywhere near their best against West Ham last month either, though, and it’s not something Mikel Arteta will want to become a common trend. With Manchester City, Leicester City and Manchester United waiting on the other side of the international break, more verve will be needed to stay in the league’s early leading pack.

“I am happy we played the game that we had to,” said Arteta afterwards.

“We had the right patience, we created the right moments in the game when a lot of spaces started to open up towards the second half and scored two great goals.”

“When that happens we need to improve to score the third one and then the game is gone. In the Premier League the first time they got near our box they scored a goal and then you have to hang in there and I don’t want to suffer as much because I love my voice.”

ARSENAL: Leno, Bellerin, Tierney, Luiz, Gabriel, Saka (Maitland-Niles 87), Elneny, Ceballos (Xhaka 81), Willian, Aubameyang, Nketiah (Pepe 58)
SUBS NOT USED: Holding, Lacazette, Runarsson, Willock

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Ramsdale, Baldock, Stevens, Egan, Basham (Sharp 76), Robinson, Benge, Lundstram, Osborn (Fleck 63), McGoldrick, Burke (McBurnie 56)
SUBS NOT USED: Ampadu, Fotheringham, Lowe, Norwood

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