Premier League Round 9: 3 Talking points from Sheffield Utd 1-0 Arsenal
Arsenal were damned to a surprise 1-0 defeat by newly-promoted Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in the Premier League on Monday night, as the Blades put up a dogged display to cut through a listless and disjointed opposition.
The Gunners had lost only once in the Premier League this term prior to the game and while the test at Bramall Lane against Chris Wilder’s side wasn’t expected to be a straightforward one, few would have expected the sequence of events that unfolded on Monday.
In the end, Lys Mousset’s solitary strike off a corner in the first-half proved to be the difference in an encounter where Sheffield United undoubtedly came away with more credit than their counterparts, who had absolutely no answer to the determined performance put up by the less fancied side.
As a result, Arsenal were usurped by London rivals Chelsea in the Premier League standings at the end of Matchday 9, although that is a rather shallow conclusion to draw from the 1-0 scoreline on Monday.
The problems, in fact, run a lot deeper for Arsenal and as they turn their focus to the upcoming Europa League fixture, let us run the rule over their deficiencies in the shock 1-0 defeat.
Here are 3 talking points from Bramall Lane:
1. Arsenal desperately need to introduce Tierney and Bellerin
When Arsenal brought in Kieran Tierney from Celtic, they must have hoped they had landed themselves an immediate replacement for Monreal as well as an excellent long-term servant in the same mould as the Spaniard.
With that in mind, however, the fans have every reason to be disappointed, as the Scottish international has barely been involved so far.
Both Bellerin and Tierney have missed the first couple of months of the ongoing season due to injuries, however, one cannot help but wonder as to why Emery has been so hesitant to introduce the full-back pairing in the Premier League until now given that they have already been declared fit.
The end product from Calum Chambers down the right side was pretty abysmal on Monday night, as was his defensive performance, while Sead Kolasinac, too, let the team down with the quality of his final ball.
Chris Wilder seemed to have identified Chambers as the weakest link in Arsenal’s defence and the likes of John Fleck, O’Connell and Enda Stevens teamed up intelligently to ruffle the opposition’s feathers with a flurry of crosses into the box.
That, in turn, led to a multitude of set-pieces, one of which was finally converted by Mousset for the opener.
Suffice to say, Arsenal need to introduce Bellerin and Tierney at the earliest, as they have the all-round game in their repertoire to be way more efficient than Chambers and Kolasinac.
2. The Conundrum of playing out from the back
Playing out from the back has been one of the hallmarks of Arsenal’s game under Emery over the past twelve months but Monday’s debacle was yet another reminder of the fact that the Gunners need to be circumspect and showcase the presence of mind to adopt a different approach when push comes to shove.
Sheffield showed exactly why they have earned plaudits for their tireless running, work rate, resilience and doggedness under the stewardship of Wilder, as the Blades completely disrupted Arsenal’s tactics of playing out from the back with some well-planned collective pressing in the middle of the park.
With Sheffield looking to push Arsenal narrow and the likes of Chambers and Kolasinac found wanting in terms of positioning, the Blades hassled and harried the Gunners at every opportunity, which, in turn, led to some dangerous situations and forced clearances.
Despite struggling to play out from the back, Arsenal were too stubborn to adopt a different approach, albeit they did kick some aimless long balls up the pitch to vent their frustration.
3. Lack of creativity was ridiculous, Xhaka was terrible, and too much asked of Saka
With Granit Xhaka at the base of the midfield, Arsenal were able to retain possession and do nothing fruitful with it.
Besides a thumping effort on goal in the first half, the Swiss international barely offered anything in terms of creativity from the deeper areas of the pitch, whilst his distribution was largely limited to short passes, either sideways or backwards.
Joe Willock has been one of Arsenal’s shining lights this season but his timid and lacklustre display on Monday once again highlighted the fact that he is more of a No.8 rather than a natural No.10 behind the striker.
Apart from the failure of Guendouzi and Willock to break Sheffield’s lines and enhance central penetration, Nicolas Pepe, too, did nothing out of the ordinary other than cutting inside with his left foot and switching the play from one flank to the other.
Bukayo Saka was booked for diving inside the penalty box under controversial circumstances but the teenager was once again one of Arsenal’s most lively players in the final third.
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However, with Aubameyang largely anonymous throughout the game, it looked as if there was too much pressure on the youngster to lead the surge for a rescue mission.
Sheffield’s ploy to play narrow, sit deep, press the opposition and condense areas of the pitch worked to perfection, as the Gunners hardly created enough clear-cut opportunities from open play.