Arsenal continued their positive start to the Premier League campaign with a 2-1 win over Sheffield United at the Emirates.
Arsenal dominated the opening periods of the game, enjoying 71 per cent possession in the first half, though they struggled to break down Chris Wilder’s well-drilled side – the first shot of the game coming in the 28th minute.
Things could have been much different though as the Gunners’ often unpredictable centre-back David Luiz avoided a fifth-minute red card, the Brazilian tugging back on the shirt of Oliver Burke, who was through on goal, though with Bernd Leno just managing to sweep up, referee Lee Mason deeming the former Chelsea man not to have denied a goalscoring opportunity and only brandished a yellow.
After a goalless first half, both managers made early changes in the second period as they looked to change the pattern of the game, and for Arsenal, it had an almost instant impact. Mikel Arteta’s side finally were able to produce some slick one-touch football on the edge of the Blades’ box, Hector Bellerin’s cross finding Bukayo Saka at the back post who calmly headed home unchallenged.
Three minutes later and it was two, Arsenal passing it around neatly in midfield before Bellerin found Nicolas Pepe – who had only been on the pitch for six minutes – the Ivory Coast international driving at pace down the Arsenal right before coolly slotting his effort in off the far post from the edge of the area.
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With the game edging towards what looked like a routine victory for the Gunners, Sheffield United did give themselves hope, Ireland international David McGoldrick curling home a sublime effort from the edge of the box with six minutes to play after George Baldock had won the ball in midfield and advanced upfield unchallenged.
Sheffield United pushed for a late equaliser – including the always enjoyable sight of sending up the ‘keeper for two late corners – but Arsenal were able to hold on for all three points, and speaking afterwards, Mikel Arteta suggested his side should have looked to kill the game following its nervy finale.
“What I liked today was that we adapted to a very different scenario that we faced in the last two games against Liverpool, it was a completely different game,” he said at his post-match press conference.
“I am happy with the way that we played the game that we had to play. We had the right patience, we created the right moments in the game when a lot of space started to open up in the second half, we scored two great goals and when that happens we need to improve to score the third one and then the game is gone.
“In the Premier League, the first time they got near our box, they scored a goal and then you have to hang in there and I don’t want to suffer as much because I lost my voice!”
Speaking about the good build-up to Pepe’s goal, Arteta felt that it is a positive sign of his side’s evolution under his management.
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“Yes, it was really good,” he said of the goal. “I think the team is evolving in the right way, in possession in certain areas again to attack this low block, this 5-3-2, the way Chris [Wilder] has them organised, how resilient they are, how clever they are in the way they manage and conduct you into certain areas to trap you there, is really tricky. But the moment we increased our ball speed and started to read certain situations better, we attacked more efficiently with more purpose, and that is how we scored the goals.”
The result moves Arsenal into the top four ahead of the international break, where they will return with an away trip to Arteta’s former stomping ground against Man City.