Another Arsenal match, another draw. That’s 11 in the Premier League for those of you keeping count. It’s made even more frustrating by the feeling that the Gunners really should have had the full three points today. The Sheffield United equalizer came against the run of play, at least in the second half, and Arsenal probably should have had a penalty at 1-0 up. There has been a good deal of improvement under Mikel Arteta, but Arsenal cannot seem to put together a full 90-minute performance.
The Gunners got off to a slow start today; the Blades had the better of the action for the first 30 minutes of play. Even with the lion’s share of the possession and a few semi-dangerous balls into the area, the visitors didn’t really trouble Bernd Leno. A couple of quick counters from the Gunners seemed to wake the home side up, and things evened out for the last 15 minutes of the half.
Arsenal struck right before halftime on a Gabriel Martinelli tap-in, set up by a nice piece of combination play. Mesut Özil found Alexandre Lacazette, who played a fantastic short throughball to free Bukayo Saka. Saka’s cross took a slight deflection off a defender, but not really enough to say Arsenal were “fortunate” in the path the ball took. It was Martinelli’s second Premier League goal of the season and his ninth overall. The young Brazilian seems to have an innate ability to get himself into dangerous areas where the ball is going to be. In case you weren’t sure, that is a Very Good Thing for an attacker.
Arsenal were comfortably the better team in the second half but could not find a second goal. As mentioned, Nicolas Pepe probably did enough to earn a penalty for the Gunners, but it wasn’t given. Similar plays have been given around the league this season, including a few times against Arsenal, and VAR continues to bamboozle. We move on.
The Gunners’ inability to find that goal came back to bite them in the 83rd minute when John Fleck volleyed home a bouncing ball in the Arsenal penalty area. How Fleck was left that alone in the box is a mystery. Well, it’s not a mystery — Arsenal have been making defensive mistakes like that for several seasons running. Credit to Fleck, it was a beautifully taken volley, but the marking has to be better.
The ironic thing is with all the flack we’ve (rightfully) given the Arsenal defense this season, they were pretty good today. Shkodran Mustafi had one atrocious giveaway, but that’s not poor defending per se, just bad decisionmaking. David Luiz had a good game. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka, both playing out of position I’d remind you, had solid games. Granit Xhaka made a great play to clear off the line after Bernd Leno came for and completely missed a corner. Arsenal have had far worse games defensively.
And yet it’s another draw for the Gunners. Mikel Arteta has the side playing better, particularly defensively, but that improved play isn’t translating into wins. And at the end of the day, you need to be picking up three points, especially at home. The fortunate and unfortunate reality is that this Premier League season is lost. The silver lining is that with the pressure somewhat off, Arteta can mold the side into what he wants it to be, but you’d rather not be in a position to find that particular silver lining.