Arsenal host Sheffield United at the weekend after the Gunners managed to salvage their unbeaten start to the season with two late goals from Declan Rice and Leandro Trossard, securing a 2-2 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
Sheffield United, alongside Bournemouth, are the only remaining teams without a win this season and are going through a tough five-game losing streak. The Blades are at the foot of the table and Arsenal will be looking to capitalise on any weakness to secure a victory.
Mikel Arteta’s worries continue to grow as he awaits news on Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus, who sustained a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s Champions League win over Sevilla. Thomas Partey also missed the midweek match due to a thigh injury picked up in training on Monday. Meanwhile, Jurrien Timber remains sidelined as he recovers from a knee injury earlier in the season.
Conversely, Sheffield United might receive a boost with the potential return of full-back George Baldock, who could be in contention to play in their match in North London following his return to training. Will Osula and Max Lowe are also getting closer to a return, Heckingbottom revealed during his pre-match press conference. While Oli McBurnie hasn’t trained this week and is due for a scan.
The Gunners have multiple players that can hurt the Blades on Saturday afternoon, but I’m going to single out Bukayo Saka as the one who can do the most damage.
Saka will likely be facing Luke Thomas, who although has looked okay defensively, he’s been caught sleeping on occasions which has resulted in the opposition getting in behind the left-back spot and creating big chances because of it. The link up play between Martin Ødegaard and Saka could be a real headache for Thomas at the weekend.
Saka averages two successful dribbles per game while Thomas is dribbled past 1.6 times per game. In addition, the Arsenal right winger registers three key passes per game [WhoScored].
Sheffield United will have to hope that the quick-thinking and passing ability of Gustavo Hamer and Oli Norwood can set up a counter attacking opportunity. Arsenal have already conceded two goals in transition this campaign, and with the Blades having the third-highest long balls per game (61 – WhoScored), this could be their best avenue of attack.
Norwood has recorded 4.3 accurate long passes per game [FBref], and if he can find Hamer up the pitch, who is United’s best progressive passer of the ball, perhaps the Blades can trouble Arsenal.
Arsenal has shown strong defensive capabilities this season, leading the Premier League with four clean sheets. Sheffield United on the other hand has struggled to score with only seven goals, second-worst only to Bournemouth’s six.
Additionally, Arsenal has an impressive record in home games against promoted sides, being unbeaten in their last 36 matches (W31 D5). They also have an undefeated streak of 18 home games against Sheffield United (W13 D5).
Gabriel Martinelli has been effective against Sheffield United in the past, scoring two goals in three career appearances against them [SofaScore].
If the reports from this week are true then this could well be the last time Paul Heckingbottom will be in the dugout for Sheffield United, unless he gets a miraculous positive result.
Arsenal are gunning for the title this season and have shown early on that they can get the better of Manchester City having beaten them, albeit fortuitously.
The Blades need to find something to stop the rot; they’re only four points from safety despite a horrific first nine games. That in itself suggests how poor those teams down at the bottom really are compared to the rest of the league.