Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield United: Pepe influence papers over enormous cracks
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Well, that was an absolutely diabolical game of football. Two nice goals, a relatively solid defensive display and of course the result the only positives to take away from what was a dismal rainy afternoon in North London. Surely this lacklustre performance lacking attacking fluidity, effective offensive patterns of play and clear cut goal scoring opportunities will force the board into action in the final 24 hours of the international transfer window. Creative reinforcements are so blatantly needed in this squad that if we don’t manage to make any, serious questions must be asked of the club’s hierarchy.
This was a display that exemplified all of Arsenal’s issues since Mikel Arteta’s arrival just over ten months ago. The team struggled to break down Sheffield United’s low block, despite having the large majority of possession. How much this is a result of systematic issues, in terms of working on offensive game plans in training, or whether it’s more down to a lack of personnel that has the ability to unlock these defences, we should begin to find out across the next few months. It would certainly appear it is more of a personnel issue rather than a systematic one.
The first half was as drab as I’ve seen at the Emirates. Sheffield United negated our threat well by playing in a very compact shape, blocking passing lanes and crowding wide areas where we definitely looked to create overloads. Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all took up positions on the left, whilst Mohamed Elneny, Hector Bellerin and Willian took up positions on the right. This left us with little influence centrally, Eddie Nketiah very isolated and Dani Ceballos with a lot to do in the middle of the park. It also made us very predictable and easy to play against, with little variation in our play. We were often forced into crossing the ball when out wide, which very rarely caused problems with Nketiah’s lack of an aerial presence dominated by Chris Wilder’s bullish centre-backs.
Changes were needed, and Arteta didn’t dilly dally. Nicolas Pepe was introduced 10 minutes into the second period and made an instant impact, involved in nice interplay in the build up to Saka’s opener and then scoring beautifully himself. The Ivorian’s influence in these two moves essentially the difference in what was a dull encounter. Surely he’ll begin starting league games after the international break.
The player arguably preventing this from happening by blocking Pepe’s entrance into the starting line-up had another invisible outing. Willian failed to influence the game in any meaningful way, having very few touches, and using the ball repeatedly regressively throughout the game. The decision to recruit him becomes more and more bemusing every time he plays, with our stock of wide options but few central options making the squad balance very uneven.
Not sure what else to add, other than it was very bad, and that this form won’t be sustainable forever. Houssem Aouar may not be a plausible deal to do in the next 24 hours, so literally sign any other creative midfielder, because having one is better than having none, regardless of quality level. I’ve kept this brief because a) there’s not much detail you can go into about a game in which very little happened, and b) I’m pretty ill and have a fuck off headache.
Cheers for reading- wake up Edu and co.