Arsenal handled Sheffield United comfortably today, cruising to a 3-0 victory. Definitely not going to say that Arsenal are back after they dominated what could end up being the second-worst Premier League team of all-time, but you can only play the team on your schedule. The Gunners did exactly what they were supposed to do and earned themselves a much-needed confidence boost ahead of Thursday night’s massive Europa League match.
There’s precious little to criticize coming out of today’s match. On instant reaction, I’d say the entire team put in at least a 6 of 10 performance. The only negative is Bukayo Saka picking up a thigh problem, although it might have been just a dead leg. Gabriel Martinelli down clutching his ankle had our hearts in our throats as well, but he was able to run it off.
A few players stood out as having particularly strong games. Granit Xhaka, playing out of position at LB / LCB, was great. In fact, I don’t think he put a foot wrong all match. He’s the type of guy you want at your club. Gives his all every match (and almost never misses one), can play all over the pitch, and by all accounts, is a leader in the room.
Thomas Partey looked much more the player Arsenal knew they were getting when they bought him. His turn and pass to Alexandre Lacazette to set up the third goal was sublime. He seemed to thrive in a freer role today as opposed to playing as part of more of a midfield two. Whether that will work against sides that offer more of a midfield presence and attacking threat remains to be seen.
Nicolas Pépé provided a dangerous attacking threat all game. He’s such a strange player. At times, he looks unplayable, and at times it looks as if he’s never kicked a ball before. He did exactly what you want of him on the second goal — picked up a loose ball, drove at the defense, took a shot, and forced a rebound for Gabriel Martinelli’s tap in.
Speaking of Martinelli, he’s a difference-maker. His first instinct when he gets the ball in and around the box is to drive at his man or into space to try to create a shot. It feels like a bit of an old Arsenal trope, but the side has many more players whose first thought is pass rather than shoot. I hate talking about “desire” when evaluating players, but it’s an apt description for him (on top of being quite talented). It probably has a bit to do with his youth, but it seems as if he wants to chase down every single ball. He’s also got a Vardy-esque nose for the net, fox in the box style — he’s always in the right place at the right time to bang home a rebound or get on the end of a cross.
Props to Alexandre Lacazette for bagging a brace today. We knock him for not scoring at the rate we think a striker of his level should, so it’s only fair to commend him when he does his job. I think he and Mikel Arteta are still trying to sort out what the best role is for him in the setup, but I think it’s something close to how he played today. It’s not hold-up play per se, more of a fulcrum to work in combination with guys running beyond that can also turn and shoot himself if need be.
If you want to talk combinations, might I direct your attention to the first goal on the day? It was a thing of beauty. The combination play from Partey -> Lacazette -> Saka -> Ceballos for the backheel flick and the tidy finish, magnifique. An absolutely brilliant team goal to rival the Norwich one.
And now the attention shifts to the all-important, season-defining match away to Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday. Arsenal have a few fitness question marks heading in, but going in on a convincing, 3-0 win is the way to do it.