Monday, May 20, 2024

Sheffield United 0-6 Arsenal: Gunners obliterate poor opposition again

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Another away day, another six goals. This is becoming something of a habit, but what a very nice habit it is.

Arsenal deserve so much credit for this recent run, I think our performances have been excellent with a pleasing ruthlessness in front of goal. That was the same last night, but more than any other game in this recent run – even Burnley – we were given a helping hand by just how bad the opposition were.

Shifting from his favoured back five to a back four was an interesting tactical choice from Chris Wilder, and one that backfired spectacularly. The deployment of centre-half Auston Trusty at left-back was clearly designed to try and thwart Bukayo Saka, but it did not work. It only made him stronger. Trusty was spinach, Saka became Popeye and ate him all up.

He hit the bar in the opening minutes, a sign of what was to come. Arsenal bossed it from the start, and much like at Burnley it was captain Martin Odegaard who put us ahead with an early goal. Declan Rice made a nice run into the box, he pulled it back and the Norwegian was unmarked to slot home. Saka forced an own goal after burning beyond Trusty with ease, his low cross turned into his own net by Jayden Bogle. Lovely play from back to front saw us go 3-0 up in the 15th minute. Gabriel Martinelli took it on, played a one-two with Jakub Kiwior and his shot deflected into the net.

That prompted Wilder to make a change, just 16 minutes in. It’s always tough for the player who has to come off so early in the game, but as an opposition fan you love to see it. They changed to their more familiar back five, but the goals kept coming. Kai Havertz made the most of an opportunity when the ref played advantage after a ridiculous foul on Martinelli (the bloke basically hauled him off his feet by his jersey and somehow didn’t get booked).

The German took it on and finished with real conviction, putting his foot through the ball in a way he just didn’t at the start of the season. His goal tally is steadily heading towards double figures, and there’s no question he’s been one of the fundamentals of this recent run of good form. He had a good night overall, adding an assist in the second half too, and if he continues in this vein, he could end this season with some pretty impressive numbers under his belt. Let’s hope so.

The fifth came via Declan Rice, but it owed much to Odegaard and Saka. The captain was in his element last night, toying with the opposition at times, but maybe that suggests a frivolity or lack of seriousness which wasn’t the case. He did it because he could, but also to find ways to hurt them. His pass to Saka allowed him to turn in their box, and pull the ball back for Rice to slot home. A five goal, five star first half.

Saka was replaced by Fabio Vieira at half-time, Arteta explained afterwards he was feeling unwell, so it’s a testament to his quality that he was so influential in a half when he was under the weather. Much of the second period felt like players going through the motions a bit. We dominated the ball, William Saliba made more passes on his own than the entire Sheffield United team made all game.

The sixth goal, from the aforementioned Havertz assist, was rifled home by Ben White – a landmark moment as it turned out to be Arsenal’s 10000th official goal. I really enjoyed his post-match interview, admitting he didn’t know what he was doing when he celebrated, and when asked if there was any empathy for the opposition when you’re leading 6-0, he took a moment and said:

No. I don’t think so. We’re here to do our job and that’s what we’ve done today.

I think it’s fair to say we took our foot off the gas, although there were a couple of chances to add to the scoreline, the keeper made a good save from Gabriel Jesus at one point, and Kiwior miscued a header. Thomas Partey got some minutes after being out for so long, he is definitely rusty so the luxury of being able to reintroduce him in a scenario when the points are secured shouldn’t be overlooked.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

A great night – it’s a really difficult place to come but the way we started the game obviously made the difference. We were really aggressive, really positive and we showed real quality, especially in the final third to take the game into a position where it was in a big favour for us and then we maintained it. We maintained the rhythm, the hunger and I love that about the team.

I think he’s being quite magnanimous about how difficult it is to go to Sheffield United these days. It was so interesting to hear Thierry Henry talk on Sky about how he felt uneasy about this fixture before kick off. I think we can all understand, the potential banana skins in a title race and all that, but this version of Sheffield United is no banana. More of a rotting turnip, doomed to relegation at this point. I appreciate Arteta’s public respect for the opposition, I think that’s the right way for him to speak, but as fans we can do it differently.

Nevertheless, after wins for Liverpool and Man City this weekend, there’s always just a little ‘what if?!’ in the air when you play after your opponents. Sheffield United lost their last home game 5-0 and would have wanted to at least give a good account of themselves in front of their own fans. However, Arsenal’s quality and dominance of the game didn’t allow them to do that. Yes, they were bad, but we were also very, very good, and now the attention turns to this weekend.

It’s a different challenge, playing ahead of our title rivals – who play each other btw – and seeking to put a bit of pressure on them. That’s all to come, but last night made it seven wins in a row, scoring 31 goals in the process, and while we don’t know if we’ll go the distance in this title race, this is the kind of stuff champions elect do. It’s very, very encouraging, but there will be tougher tests to come, that’s for sure.

Right, let’s leave it there. We are recording an Arsecast Extra for you relatively this morning, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around noon. Until then.

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