Connect with us

Post Match Review

Three Things We Learned from Arsenal 1 – 1 Sheffield United


Once again, Arsenal took to the pitch and put on a display of inconsistency that has been emblematic of the transition from the Emery era to the Arteta era. The ensuing 1-1 draw to visiting Sheffield United, kept Arsenal sitting in tenth place in the league.

Let’s take a look at the three things we learned from this recent league match from the Gunners.

Incremental Changes

It’s easy to get caught up on the fact that in terms of the results Arsenal haven’t improved upon the work Unai Emery was doing with Arsenal. They continue to be able to string together a consistent run of wins and they are still conceding late goals that take them away from a much needed three points.

On those facts alone you could forgive a group of fans if they were still anxious about Arsenal. But when you look closer, you can see that Arteta has begun to instil changes into the team that will have a beneficial impact in the long run.

One of the hallmarks of Arsenal Emery could best be classified as disorganization at it’s best. Emery’s Arsenal lacked basic organization and structure. With the fullbacks used to provide attacking width in Emery’s system and the midfielders usually pushed forward, the centre-backs were often left high and dry. This oftentimes left the defenders in 1v1 situations without any appropriate support.

The net result is improved defensive performance. Statistically, our non-penalty xG conceded per 90 has gone from 1.35 to .98. Opposition xG/shot has stayed constant at .09 but the average shots conceded have dropped from 14.9/90 to 10.4.

The defensive improvement also passes the visual test, and you need look no further than the much-maligned one, Shkodran Mustafi. In Saturday’s match except for a few poor passes, Mustafi looked solid. He was in good positions and with appropriate cover wasn’t put into situations that made him look his ridiculous self.

Additionally, players are playing commitment. Sure, they’ve yet to put together a full 90 minutes of committed football but under Emery, the telltale signs were complete capitulation after the opposition had scored. Under Emery, the team doesn’t give in and continues to play with a clear plan to attack the opposition.

Of course, there is still a long road to go. With little time to work the players, fitness remains a big issue. Players simply can’t gain fitness when they are playing on average a match every 3 to 4 days.

Still, it seems Arteta is working on the things he can and fixing little things as they go along. The feeling after Saturday’s match was one of 2 points dropped. But there was also a feeling that soon as it clicks for this Arsenal team, the floodgates could open and the string of runs we want will happen.

The results are frustrating, especially given the overall performance of the teams outside of the top 2. However, the positive trajectory and evidence of change is there both easily seen on the pitch and in the metrics behind the performance.

Gabriel Martinelli’s Rising Star

In the preview to Saturday’s match we explored which players would be the ones to step up and score the goals that suspended Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang would normally score. We highlighted Gabriel Martinelli and the young Brazilian did not disappoint.

In the preview, we talked about his movement off the ball and it was evident early on. A cross from Pepe in the early moments was volleyed as Martinelli found space on the far post, a little more understanding between him and Özil and one of the German’s trademarked passes would’ve found the back of the net courtesy the deputized forward.

Martinelli has all the trademarks of a real star. He’s an exceptional talent that is already banging in the goals for Arsenal. He single-handedly nearly put Liverpool to the sword in the League Cup. No small feat given the run Liverpool are on.

His performance on Saturday earned high praise from his new head coach:

“He’s an 18-year-old kid with all the enthusiasm but as well, he’s so brave to make decisions, to threaten the opponent every time,”

“He’s all the time in the middle of the goal, waiting for an opportunity to come.

“The fact he hasn’t played 90 minutes for a while – since his injury – but is still in the way he went about every single action is impressive.”

If Martinelli is the future of Arsenal, then Gooners have every reason to be bullish about their prospects with the Brazilian leading the line.

VAR Sucks

 Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slowdown or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.

Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

Both of the above paragraphs are from Law 12 of the Laws of the Game. One is on impeding the progress of the player and the other is for violent conduct. Take your pick and either one of them could have referred to the penalty shout when Diego Rico brought down Pepe in the box.

Depending on your point of view, Rico either impeded Pepe’s progress to the ball or dangerously lunged at Pepe endangering him inside the box. Regardless of the point-of-view, it’s a penalty. The fact it wasn’t given and VAR upheld it enraged pretty much every Arsenal supporter who saw it.

What made it worse was various examples of similar tackles that were awarded PKs. That now makes 11 points Arsenal have dropped as a result of poor refereeing decisions.

In terms of penalty calls VAR was instituted to to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made in conjunction with the award or non-award of a penalty kick. However, we repeatedly see it being used to make sure the referee isn’t accused of making a poor decision. How could anyone feel any other way when the ensuing VAR check on the Rico foul took less than the average VAR call normally takes.

Given that this happened the last time the Gunners met the Blades its made Gooners all the more suspect of the real intent of VAR. It’s hard to see the good utility it could be when it repeatedly is being used to not reverse improper field decisions.

VAR is quickly making the game more unenjoyable as it gets makes/supports bad after bad call. Either the FA has to come up with a quickfire solution for improving its use or it needs to scrap it altogether and with its consistently poor calls – the latter would seem the more optimal decision.

Extra Time

Does anyone want to occupy positions 3-6 in the table? This league is really bad right now. It’s competitive sure, but it’s top teams are just poor, save for 1. Even oil-rich, Champions Manchester City are looking lacklustre.

By all accounts, Arsenal should be out of the top 4 race completely given their run. However, no one in front of them is putting on a run of consistency that would impede their chances.

More in Post Match Review