It’s matchday, it’s a 3pm kick off, it’s a home game. It’s the most purest of English football things.
All we need now is a win against Sheffield United, who sit routed to the bottom of the Premier League and despite the bad news given to us from Arteta yesterday, this is a game we should be really looking to take control of and dominate from the start.
The injuries are a cause for concern though; Arteta confirmed it as ‘a few weeks’ on both Partey and Gabriel Jesus and given that both players add so much to our first choice XI, it is yet more weeks in which we will not see our best team out. If they are out for today, Wednesday and then next Saturday too, we’ll be over the quarter-way part in the season and still no sign of a steady and first choice XI playing together. It’s desperately unlucky but it is something that most of the top teams who are in Europe are facing. Arteta was asked about that but it is probably a conversation for another day, as today I think I want to focus on the here and now, which is Sheffield United at home.
Our opponents today have not had a fun start to life in the Prem; they have one draw, eight defeats and have scored seven goals all season. Their top scorer is Gustavo Hamer who is a defensive midfielder and they have conceded 24 goals in the nine games they have played. That’s an average of 2.7 gals conceded per game. Their away record reads only marginally better with four played, three scored, nine conceded at an average of 2.25 goals per match.
We may have a few key players missing, but they also have a raft of injuries, with Basham, Ahmedhodzic, Osula, Lowe, Baldock, Norrington-Davies, Egan, Tom Dabies, Jebbison, all out and Ollie McBurnie having limped off of their game last weekend against Man United. Now, I don’t know most of the Sheffield United team, but looking at their players who have played the most games this season as an indicator of how many of those would have played today if given the chance, it looks like the ones in bold I’ve highlighted above are first teamers.
This is a match that we should be looking to well and truly dominate and bag goals.
But an air of caution must be sounded, because it was only a couple of late goals that turned a shock defeat for the Scum in to a win against Sheffield United, so we need to be mindful of that. That game they set up to frustrate the Scum and then nick a goal. We have seen already with Fulham what happens if we switch off on at any time, so we need to make sure that whilst the ball is going to be played in their half – A LOT – we don’t leave spaces open at the back. They have the worst xG in the league at 7.5 goals and that suggests some profligacy in front of goal, but it only takes a scabby corner to ruin our afternoon.
We’ve struggled against low block teams and that has tended to happen all season, with Arsenal supposedly facing the deepest blocks of any team in all Europe, if some of the stats gurus will tell you. There is absolutely no chance that Sheffield United don’t rock up in a 5-3-2 formation today and they’ll have bodies tucked in and camped on the edge of their box and in their box probably from minute one until into the 90s. Expect them to take ages on every goal kick, throw in, etc and as seems to be par for the course for us, expect the referee to do nothing about it until about the 80th minute.
We will welcome back a Gooner though. Well, sort of, in the shape of Austen Trusty, who never really got the chance to actually play for us. But he’ll be in the team I suspect and I also suspect that means he’ll probably be their best defender by a country mile. I just hope it is all in vein.
And that needs to be because we have scored in the first half. We’ve struggled bagging early goals this season like we did a fair few times last season, some of which is probably down to the low-blockiness of our opponents, but a goal for us to put us ahead in the first 30 minutes will, I hope, force Sheffield United to come out at us. If that happens then you’d expect us to cut them open. But until we get that first goal, it will probably be a bit of frustration for us this afternoon. Hopefully for not too long.
As for how we’ll line up, we’re going to need lock unpickers today, so for me I’d go with Trossard in place of Gabriel Jesus today. Have him flanked by Saka and Martinelli, with Odegaard and another technician left eight alongside him. Who could that be? I feel like Fabio Vieira might be a shout, because he seems reluctant to use Smith Rowe, but perhaps having Havertz to get involved in the box as another attacking player is useful. It’s a tough one to call. Does he go with Jorginho and play Rice in the advanced position? Maybe. Rice has been that fantastic that it’d be ok with that and Jorginho is somebody who doesn’t lose the ball. But we don’t really want him holding on to it in the middle of the park, do we? Sheffield United launch the ball 50% of time forward, so when their ‘keeper has it we should expect it to spend most of it’s time going over Jorginho’s head. In possession if we are winning our headed duels in defence he’ll be a good player to get the ball too when we turn it over, but I just think you can have Rice do that job and then have a more attacking lock-picker added to our attacking five if we do that.
Whatever he goes with, Arteta needs to make sure that his team don’t do anything stupid. If we avoid shooting ourselves in the foot, then we should be fine today.
Famous last words, eh?
Catch you all tomorrow for some analysis of what will transpire in just a few short hours. Have a good Saturday (entirely Arsenal dependent).