What’s that I hear?
‘WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO WEMBLEY, WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO WEMBLEY’
You can’t knock that feeling people, the FA Cup is a great competition that we love to be a part of, and sadly, it probably presents our best way back into Europe this season. The competition is going to be outrageous once we land in the semi-finals, as I’m writing this we still have Chelsea, Leicester, United, and Manchester City in the mixer, so the chances of a win are slim… but, if we make it to the final, there’s a very good chance we make the Europa League because we’ll be facing a team with Champions League football.
So what about the game? Well, can I offer you up a nothing assessment?
‘It was a game of two halves’
Ooohhhh yes it was. Arteta stuck this his guns with the squad non-negotiables. He didn’t give Mesut Ozil a start, nor did he bring Matteo Guendouzi in from the cold. They didn’t even travel. I suspect Arteta is getting a little tired, like most Arsenal fans, of the constant circus around the two players. Again, it’s a big risk, you lose, the pressure heaps on you because our usual reaction to losing is to assume the team would be better with the rebels in it. That didn’t work out for Emery, so god knows why Arsenal fans are bemoaning a coach that sticks to his guns.
Anyway, we didn’t lose. Our 1-2 victory was only our second win in 9 going away to Sheffield United. This is a side that are built to cause Arsenal-like sides problems, they’re great in the air, they have an aggressive ground game, and their pressing has been problematic for us. The first half was fairly comfortable. We kept our defensive shape, we limited their chances, and our formation, 3 at the back, freed up space for our forwards to cause problems.
The standout performer of the half was Nicolas Pepe, he found a lot more joy working with Willock and AMN as a right back. The additional speed and confidence opened up his game. He moved inside a lot more and though he wasn’t swimming in touches, he picked up the ball in more dangerous areas than he had been.
We took the lead through a penalty. Lacazette, who was mostly eaten up by Sheffield’s defence was clipped just inside the box. Pepe, a dead ball monster, stepped up and took responsibility for the kick and duly buried it into the bottom corner. He looked very happy after that as we started to see glimpses of what he could be at Arsenal next season.
We knew what was coming in the second half. Sheffield United upped the aggression and energy levels and immediately got at us with the long balls. The confidence of this team is very fragile. For the 3rd time this season, a lead has caused us problems as the nerves set in. It wasn’t helped when David Luiz had a knee blowout (typical after signing a new deal). Rob Holding did not instil confidence in anyone and Sheffield United played on his reluctance to attack long balls into the box. There were a couple of warning moments, the worst when he allowed a floated ball into our area to go unchallenged. Add to that his erratic passing, and, well, you sensed what was coming.
Sheffield United enacted a Delap style throw into the box, Rob Holding mistimed an unchallenged header, Kola had no time to react, the ball was bundled into the net. You worried what extra time would do to the squad and I really had absolutely no hope for what was to happen next.
Kola cleared a long ball into our box and found Saka through the middle, he shifted the ball up to Eddie, he switched the play finding Pepe in the box, the ball was begging for a right foot volley, Pepe couldn’t muster it, the half baked clearance found Ceballos who slotted the ball under the on-rushing Henderson.
Magic. The second time in 3 days that the subs have come together to win a game.
So what did we learn today?
Arsenal is still very much a work in progress and the squad that we have is in desperate need of upgrades.
The individual errors keep costing us. I don’t know how you program a group of footballers to stop doing stupid things over and over again. Outside the poor Holding performance, there were plenty of other incidents that could have led to catastrophe. Granit Xhaka had one of those games where you worried he was on the cusp of doing something horrendous. He dived early on and won a freekick. That set the tone for two more occasions when he needlessly threw himself on the floor in dangerous positions, one on the edge of their area that led to a counter-attack, one late on just in front of our box. It’s problematic. He doesn’t need to do things like that.
There were a lot of positives to draw from.
Martinez has exceptional distribution. It actually looks better than Leno’s. I’m not sure he’ll be happy with himself for the goal, but overall, we’ve not seen a massive dip in goal.
AMN just needs to bite the bullet and accept he could be a very talented right-back for Arsenal. His power and mobility combined with his confidence moving forward could be honed into something special. He offered so much more than Hector has been able to over the past few games. A really impressive performance from him.
Tierney also had a fairly positive showing. His final ball still needs more work, but he gives us a lot of drive down the left and his recovery pace is exceptional. We really need him to stay fit.
It’s also worth remembering, we have been shit away from home for years and that was a big victory however it happened. The team showed great resiliance to come back from a goal down almost immediately. Also, we won a tough game without Auba, Ozil, Bellerin, Leno, and Torreira out of the starting 11.
The first half was more talk worthy. I thought we started to see glimpses of what Arteta is trying to bring to the club moving forward. There were better passing combinations, more confidence going into moves. The biggest miss is a final ball. We dominate possession, but we’re not really creating a lot of high-quality chances.
Our second half performances need addressing. Why do we come out so meekly? Also, part of that, how can the team be better at adapting to a bad moment with an injury or a red card. Better players, sure, but we can’t have that now.
The biggest issue we can’t escape is our midfield, if you think about the reality, we’re lacking a proper 6 that can control the middle of the park physically, we don’t have a proper #8 in the side, and our #10 doesn’t want to be a professional footballer. That’s quite a few issues you’re dealing with. The good news for me is that if you fix our entire midfield, we have quite a few very exciting attacking players to unlock.
Overall, it wasn’t pretty, but we won. We live to fight another day. We are still in with a chance of an FA Cup final. That’d be grand, wouldn’t it?
Right, see you in the comments. x