With the second international break mercifully behind us, the third-place Gunners look to kick back on with a road trip to Bramall Lane to take on 15th-place Sheffield United.
As with all international breaks, the best outcome that anyone can hope for is a returning roster of healthy players, which, surprisingly, Arsenal have. Outside of Reiss Nelson’s knee knock which will see him out for the indeterminable future, the Gunners currently have no players who are ruled out from first team action. This is a good thing, or so I have been told.
The most notable return to the Arsenal lineup is Alexandre Lacazette. While the longterm absence of a team’s starting striker is usually tough to deal with, it’s much easier when you have the reigning Golden Boot winner and the Premier League’s Player of the Month for September in your side, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang single-handedly (or footedly) kept the Gunners afloat in Laca’s absence.
The return of Lacazette comes at a crucial time for the Gunners. The upcoming slate of games will mean that they will need all hands on deck, as Arsenal will have three days between matches through the end of the month and only one layover of four days over the next seven matches. However, having just returned to full training, it is unlikely that Lacazette starts in the attack on Monday.
Joining Lacazette back on the pitch is midfielder Emile Smith Rowe, who returns from his concussion suffered in the Carabao Cup. A healthy ESR gives the Gunners much-needed depth and another chance for Arsenal’s dazzling crop of youth prospects to get quality minutes. That being said, he is almost assuredly not going to make the bench for this match, as he has been primarily a cup tie player at this point.
Arsenal’s defense might be in the best position it has been in all season. Every first team defender is healthy for the first time in what feels like forever, even the perpetually-injured Dinos Mavropanos. On top of that, there have been promising performances all around. New signing Kieran Tierney, who could potentially get his first league start against the Blades, has looked like the LB of the future in his few appearances. Callum Chamber has been Arsenal’s best defender all around. Even Shkodran Mustafi has featured in two clean sheet performances. These are strange and exciting times, folks.
As with all scenarios for the Gunners, the simplest thing they can do is win. After Saturday’s league results, Arsenal are fifth in the Premier League table, but a win against the Blades bumps them back up to 3rd, a point behind Manchester City and one point ahead of both Chelsea and Leicester City.
Despite being 15th in the table, Sheffield are by no means a pushover. Defensively, they are surprisingly sound. So far this season, only two teams have put two goals past the Blades: Chelsea and Leicester. They have been stout against Premier League heavyweights, playing Chelsea to a draw and, if not for a goalkeeping gaffe, nearly pipped a point against league-leading Liverpool.
It’s the attack where Sheffield fall flat, having failed to score a single goal in three straight matches and scoring a paltry seven goals on the season. Of their seven goals, five have come from five separate Blades players. The other two? Owen Goal himself.
Arsenal have not kept many clean sheets this season, but Monday could present as good an opportunity for Bernd Leno to be untroubled and for the defense to gain confidence after eight unpredictable performances in the back.
On paper, this should be a win for the Gunners. However, the same has been said about quite a few other matches this season, only to see Arsenal leave with one point instead of three. Although the seat under Unai Emery is far from hot, another tepid performance against a mid-table side will further fan the flames of discontent among those in the fanbase who remain unsatisfied with the Gunners’ progress under the second year manager.
So, while the match is far from a must-win in the traditional sense, it is absolutely a can’t-lose for the Gunners. With a chance to retake their third place spot and distance themselves further from their rivals, Arsenal need to grasp the opportunity and throttle it.
- Know Your Opponent: Sheffield United
- Premier League: Arsenal vs. Sheffield United - Predicted Starting XI & Bench
WHAT: Arsenal at Sheffield United
WHEN: Monday, October 21st, 3:00pm EST/12:00pm PST/8:00pm BST
WHERE: Bramall Lane, Sheffield
HOW TO WATCH: NBC Sports
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