Gunner Thoughts

Arsenal – Sheffield United: Match Preview

Arsenal are back in action for Premier League points against Sheffield United.

Back in action within the Premier League, getting a much-needed break from the transfer window, and at the Emirates after three away matches, including two at Anfield. I suppose it is impossible to completely distance ourselves from the transfer window at this point with the impending close pressing down on us and yesterday’s reports from multiple sources that Aouar I will be remaining in France of the year.

The situation there, if Arsenal in fact are not capable of bringing in Aouar before the window closes, will naturally dissolve into a blame-game of finger pointing. Whose fault was it? Whose fault is it? Why didn’t it happen? Could it have ever happened? Was there no plan B?

Arsenal needed backing, needed reinforcements, and needed definitive improvement through purchases, but was that ever a possibility without making sales or being handed money? At this point Arsenal have made 2 significant sales – Emi Martinez for £20m and youth player Sam Greenwood for £3m. Hardly the type of salesmanship needed early on to fill the empty coffers.

There are so many directions to run with this, but each with their own defense – even if a meager one at that. KSE didn’t back us, but they never have, we are self-sufficient. Why would they start now, and was the plan really orchestrated around that changing? Raul lined up deals, but was sacked so could hardly see his work out. However, he was likely sacked due to his role in the Pepe deal that was not entirely above board. Arsenal likely paid through the nose for Pepe. Hmm, wouldn’t some of those funds be useful now? The connection to Kia clients, Cedric and Mari, and even Willian. Were those wise decisions? Cedric is clearly worse than AMN and Bellerin, who no longer seem likely to leave. Mari, we have not seen, but we purchased him and then went spent more funds to improve that spot this summer with Gabriel. We have given Willian a lengthy 3-year deal, was that wise when those funds would likely be making up the gap between what Arsenal have and what Lyon want?

Circle back to the club itself. Where has our money gone? Where are the cash reserves? Tied up in other items, like Arsenal’s exorbitant wage bill? That wage bill that is pulling us to the bottom of the ocean with players on high wages that no one is willing to touch, slowly pulling us to the bottom of the ocean. Edu stepped into the role of getting these deals done in the wake of Raul leaving, yet here we are with 48 hours left, multiple players to sell, a few to buy, yet few of the tasks at hand getting done.

How far back do you want to look? Gazidis and Wenger? The battle of club ownership between KSE and Usmanov? The post-Invincibles, move to Emirates situation and deals made to finance it? Truthfully, this is likely a combination of everything listed so far, mixed with poor stretches of bandaid purchases, and poor money allocation that can’t be sustained during a Champions League drought and pandemic that eliminates matchday revenue streams.

KSE is looked at directly as they have the easiest ability to alleviate the issues given the relaxation of FFP rules, their outright ownership and the responsibilities that come with it, and general net worth wealth. Because truthfully, Arsenal do spend funds, They have a £225m wage bill of funds they spend, they enxtended the contracts of Aubameyang and Saka, they bought Gabriel, it’s just easy to point out the very poor spending – Luiz, Mari, Soares, Willian from this window, maybe? Multiple players in the past? What will be interesting is how they close this window and if they can get something done that moves us incrementally in the right direction that Arteta can work with. Because there are some positives for the future, but it seems the road to redemption may not be complete in one window, or even half complete, the way many wanted. Instead it may be simply the backline that gets a boost and Arteta is left to salvage what he can with the rest. Poor Aubameyang legacy?

We can talk more about that next week when the window officially closes and we know the team, but the only way to find out how “complete” Arsenal are in their attempt to compete for top four is to play the games and compete. Precisely what Arsenal have the opportunity to do against Sheffield United.

Sheffield United

When I think about a team that is really struggling since the restart Sheffield comes to mind. They were on a war path last season until the break, and when fans couldn’t come back, the side never rebounded either. During the restart they won 3 matches, drew 2, and lost 5. They dropped well out of the race for top four, and ended up in 9th. 2020 hasn’t been any better. Sheffield have lost all 3 of their matches so far and have not scored a single goal.

It’s another team that Arsenal should get valuable points from, but a match that is set up to potentially be difficult. Despite losing all 3 opening matches, Sheffield have only conceded 4 goals. They play very defensively, they are well drilled, and it will be on Arsenal to break them down — an aspect that has proven difficult lately for the Gunners. In their match against West Ham, another team content to let Arsenal dictate with the ball, Arsenal were outshot 14-7 despite having the ball for nearly two-thirds of the match. They won, which is something they can be thankful for at the end of the season, but the performance demonstrated a lot of worrisome signs.

Two people that really came through for Arsenal in the West Ham match were Bukayo Saka and Dani Ceballos. While it makes some degree of sense given the match, neither were given starting spots for Liverpool. Arsenal were poor for most of the West Ham match but these two offered the minor bits of creativity needed, including combining with each other in the buildup to Arsenal’s winning goal. Additionally, when Arsenal subbed in Ceballos for Xhaka in the Liverpool game, he did offer the ability to supply vertical passing that Arsenal had been missing all game and created multiple very good chances to level the score that Arsenal couldn’t take. I would really like to see them together in this game.

“The margins in the league of winning, drawing and losing are really small and the details are crucial,” said Arteta on Sheffield’s start to the season, “but they have generated big chances every game and they’ve been really unlucky in my opinion not to get anything out of those games.” And it’s these big chances, and the parity in the Premier League, that leave the door open. Sheffield took 4 points from Arsenal last season and only lost in the FA Cup one a late Ceballos goal.

Arteta did hint at some potential changes to the game plan and structure. “I hope we can go on Sunday and grab three points because it’s going to be really important for us before the international break. The differences are in both teams and I think you will notice some changes in structure and players. It’s a different game [to last season] but we know what we’re trying to do and how difficult it will be.” What those changes will be, we can only guess.

Getting a win here feels like a necessity. Not only because Arsenal follow this match with another tough match against Manchester City, but because there may be a symbolic message to send. This could very well be the side Arteta has to compete with this year and breaking down a defensive side, could show some much-needed sign of fight for the fans. Beating these teams consistently will go a long way in giving the side a fighting chance at making a run toward where they want to be.

Predicted Lineup

Knowing that the onus will be on Arsenal to break down Sheffield and remain diligent against the counter, I imagine we will see a side similar to West Ham’s with a few key adjustments. One of the largest improvements over the West Ham side will be seeing Tierney back. He struggled a bit to deal with the powerful left side of Liverpool but has carved out a spot in Arteta’s tactics that clearly only he is capable of fulfilling. This should help improve the effectiveness of both Saka and Aubameyang while improving the left side in general.

I believe that Luiz will retain his spot despite the quality play that Gabriel bring to the pitch. Arteta really appreciates what Luiz has to offer and until Arteta can alter the progression to transition into their attacking 2-3-5 without having Tierney in the left center back role, I believe Arteta will continue to select only one of Luiz and Gabriel. The rest of the side remains consistent with what we have seen so far in the league, but would be another match with Pepe out of the lineup. Whether that fault lies with Pepe, Arteta, Arsenal, or all of them – it’s clear that things aren’t working when it comes to fitting him in. He offers moments of individual brilliance, but within the system, can be hit or miss.

Many will call for Arsenal to play a 4-3-3, but I won’t predict it until major midfield purchases are made or Arteta selects it first. Until this, 3-4-3 stays.

Predicted Scoreline:

As much as I would like Arsenal to come out fast and furious, with guns blazing and sharp movement proving un-trackable for the Sheffield side – it’s not something we have seen. I think we will get a lot of side-to-side ball movement and probing. What I hope is that adding the dynamic attacking runs of Tierney can stretch the low block allowing more space for Saka and Aubameyang to tuck in centrally and get on the ball in space. Willian will certainly  be tasked with trying to come into the midfield and sit between the lines, but needs to be a little bit more technically tight to bounce back after two average performances.

I think this is going to be a tough one, but Arsenal will get their chances. Could Lacazette make it 4 in 4? He let a good chance at Liverpool go to waste and couldn’t claim his second, but he has scored in every Premier League match.

Im going Arsenal 2-1.

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