It wasn’t the prettiest match. For long stretches, it was quite terrible to watch. But a two-goal outburst from Bukayo Saka (61’) and Nicolas Pepe (64’) gave Arsenal the lead they needed to eventually claim three points from Sheffield United at a rain-soaked Emirates stadium today.
The first half was poor. Arsenal had about 75% possession and made virtually nothing of it. Sheffield United seemed content to sit back and defend without mustering anything going forward. The noteworthy moments of the half were refereeing decisions. David Luiz got away with what should have been a yellow card pullback that the Sky pundits laughably were convinced should have been a straight red. Sander Berge saw yellow for an ankle-breaker he put in on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that easily could have been a straight red.
The second half started out more of the same, but Mikel Arteta swapping Nicolas Pepe for Eddie Nketiah made the difference. With Aubameyang up top, Willian drifting centrally, and another midfield attacking threat (Pepe) on the pitch, the Arsenal attack woke up. Bukayo Saka headed home a Hector Bellerin chip to complete a 19-pass move for the first goal. Nicolas Pepe worked a 1-2 with Bellerin just over midfield then did the rest himself for the second.
There have been 9 goals off moves with 19+ passes in the Premier League since Mikel Arteta took over at Arsenal; the Gunners have 4 of them. As for Pepe’s goal, it was exactly the type of run and finish Arsenal fans thought and hoped they were getting when he joined the club last summer. He’s got the talent, it’s just a question of consistency and opportunity. The more attacking threats Arsenal have on the pitch together, the better Pepe will be. He needs space to excel and giving opposing defenses more threats to worry about will create that room. It will also probably helps not to be staring down two and three defenders every time he gets on the ball.
But it’s rarely easy for Arsenal, right? Sheffield United got one back a few minutes past the 80th minute on a fantastic shot from David McGoldrick. It had to be the Gunners that conceded the Blades’ first goal of the Premier League season. To be honest, I’m not too upset about it. It was a magnificent shot, and you let him shoot from outside the area on his off foot every time. The Arsenal defense could have closed him down a step quicker, and Bernd Leno may have been slightly unsighted and off his angle, but that’s splitting hairs.
Arsenal are off to a good start in the Premier League. They’ve taken 9 of 12 points on offer with an away loss to Liverpool as the only blemish. There is definitely room for improvement, and I wouldn’t say no to an incoming transfer or two before the window closes on Monday, October 5th, but I’m pleased with how things stand heading into an international break.