Analysing Arsenal’s 2-1 Win Over Sheffield United
Arsenal hosted Sheffield United in the final Premier League game before the international break.
The Gunners, off the back of beating Liverpool in a penalty shootout on Thursday, faced 18th place Sheffield United who were yet to register a single point this season.
Mikel Arteta lined Arsenal up in their usual 3-4-3, with Gabriel returning to the Premier League starting elven, after sitting out against Liverpool on Monday. He lined up with Luiz and Tierney either side of him. Saka returned ahead of Maitland-Niles at left wingback, whilst Bellerin flanked down the right. Dani Ceballos and Mohamed Elneny were partnered in central midfield, with Aubameyang, Nketiah and Willian, forming the front three.
Chris Wilder opted for his preferred 3-5-2, with Aaron Ramsdale being shielded by Robinson, Egan and Basham. The 2 wingbacks were Stevens and Baldock, with the three midfielders, being Osborn, Berge and Lundstram. McGoldrick and Burke were the two strikers for United.
Arsenal worked really hard to overload out wide, in order to minimise the defensive pressure centrally from United. Both Arsenal flanks would have as many as 4 or 5 players, well positioned to rotate the ball and create space for teammates to attack. This pulled United players out of central areas.
Arteta likes to attack with width and maintain the width at all times. This allowed Arsenal to pin certain Sheffield United players and create 1v1’s or draw players in, and create even more dangerous spaces out wide. It was fundamental Arsenal always had a connecting pass to facilitate these passes out wide. Down the left, it was the conductor in chief; Ceballos, whereas down the right, Elneny knitted play together. They either looked to receive a back pass, before looking forward, or they would receive, find a teammate and then run beyond the United defensive shape, pulling opposition with them.
Elneny – the false fullback
Mohamed Elneny played a pivotal role for Arsenal, both in possession and out. When building-up from the back, he slotted in on the right side to help form a back three. This helped Bellerin to go forward and ensure Arsenal had width down the right and could stretch Sheffield United. When Arsenal moved the ball higher up the pitch, and the back three, altered to a back two, Elneny would take a position between the wingback and the back two, almost as a “false fullback”. This was in order to maintain the much needed balance when in possession.
Elneny’s position was vital for Arsenal. Psychologically, Bellerin knew that he had cover and could go forward, without having a nagging thought in the back of his mind, about how much running back he had to do should Arsenal lose the ball. As well as this, Chris Wilder, looks for his team to play balls into the channels for his strikers to get onto. Against a back four, this leaves the two centre backs 2v2 with the strikers and pulls them out of position. Elneny guarded against this and could either try and intercept this channel ball, or add extra cover for the two centre backs; Luiz and Gabriel.
Arsenal’s first goal, was a true thing of beauty. The Gunners executed a positional rotation move to perfection. This move was something that Arsenal needed to do far more in the game, in order to break down the United defence.
Arsenal’s wide overload down the right and desire to get numbers in the box, allowed for the Gunners to split Sheffield United in half and minimise their defensive pressure. Elneny who had an impressive game, made a great run from deep on the blindside of McBurnie, who reacted too late. Elneny drove into the open space and received from Pepe. Sheffield United’s natural response was to press Elneny and prevent a shot. This gave extra space to Aubameyang who could receive and play a round the corner pass for Bellerin, before the right back could stand a cross up to the far post, for Saka to head home.
Aubameyang was the pivot of the move. Arsenal knew where the space would open up and it was just a matter of helping the ball arrive there. For example, Elneny being pressed, opened up space for Aubameyang, but also in behind the Sheffield United centre backs, for Bellerin, who was played on side by the wingbacks goal side marking of Saka. Bellerin’s ball was into free space for Saka who stood off his marker, as the United wingback protected a potential low driven cross, rather than one stood-up. This gave Saka his space to score.
Despite Arteta’s tactics, Arsenal really struggled to create any high quality chances for the majority of the first half, with the Gunners usual slick passing, being faltered with aggressive double and triple marking. Furthermore, the usual mechanisms which are central to Arsenal breaking down opponents were seemingly ineffective and missing.
Every time one of Arsenal’s midfielders receive the ball between the United forward and midfield lines, they were met either with pressure or no options, as United’s midfield picked up their opponents and screened the lines.
Arsenal worked very hard to play out from the back, with Arteta identifying the need to draw Sheffield onto them, in order to open them up. United did bite into this, however were very aggressive and looked to tactical foul, should Arsenal get through their initial pressure. United were also very good at getting behind the ball when Arsenal were successful in playing out. United would slow down the move one way or another and use the time to get behind the ball and gain compactness.
This game really showed the need for Arsenal to sign another creative midfielder. Ceballos was impressive, however always from deep. It was only when he got higher up the pitch, that Arsenal caused more problems for United. Arsenal need someone who can play as a number 8 or 10, closer to the oppositions goal with good close control. As well as this, Arsenal had no one who could pick the ball up and drive at the United defensive block. Maybe this is more down to Arteta’s tactics, wanting for his players to continue passing rather than risk dribbling into traffic. However, this could have in turn drawn United players inside and opened up more space on the flanks, for 1v1’s.
In conclusion, Arsenal bounced back in the Premier League, beating Sheffield United with 2 excellent goals. Saka and Pepe, did the job for Arsenal, whilst McGoldrick, offered a late scare. It was great to see Pepe get the winner – a much needed confidence boost for the Ivorian, who had an impressive cameo.
It could have been a completely different story, had referee Lee Mason seen differently and sent off Luiz for a cynical pull back on Oliver Burke in the early moments of the game. Similarly, Arsenal could have had greater control in the match, had Sander Berge’s studs up challenge on Aubameyang been punished.
Sheffield United were looking for a performance to kick start their season and in years gone past, would of thought they could physically and psychologically get at Arsenal. However Arteta adapted and prepared his team excellently.
It wasn’t a great game and Arsenal’s need for reinforcements was clear to see, yet positives must be taken and the most important aspect of the match – the score line, was in Arsenal’s favour, come the end of the match.