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Tactical Innovations, Set Piece Calamity and Ceballos’ late Flourish: Tactical Breakdown of Arsenal’s Nervy Win Over Sheffield United

Sheffield vs Arsenal

Quite a game it was! I think we were expected to lose against a tactically innovative side like Sheffield United. Our last win at Bramall Lane was in a League Cup quarterfinal in 2007, with Eduardo scoring twice. And who can forget David Seaman’s incredible save in the last minutes of the 2003 Sheffield vs Arsenal FA Cup semi-final?

Coming back to the Sheffield vs Arsenal game, the hosts came out strong for the first 20 minutes. We should’ve realised what we were up against when John Lundstram headed the ball into the net in the first minutes of the game. Thankfully, that was ruled as offside. But our calamitous set-piece defending was laid bare, nearly gave all of us a heart attack there.

Sheffield vs Arsenal, Dani Ceballos goal
(Photo by ANDREW BOYERS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When in possession of the ball, we got into a 3-1-4-2 formation with Xhaka playing as the defensive midfielder. Occasionally, he dropped back to be the third centre-back. This was much different from the way we played in the previous game. The back three consisted of David Luiz (later Holding), Mustafi, and Kolasinac. Tierney played more like a winger as Saka was given the license to go narrow. But, the front 2 comprised of Lacazette and Pepe.

This formation was beneficial for Pepe as Maitland-Niles was playing wider. Although Willock struggled a bit at the beginning of the game finding difficulties in making that killer pass, he improved later on.

However, Kieran Tierney was a beast in attack during the Sheffield vs Arsenal game. With 5 crosses and 2 interceptions, he was clearly the Man of the Match for me. Without the ball, Arsenal shifted to a 5-4-1 formation with Pepe and Saka dropping to the wings and Lacazette being the lone striker.

Chris Wilder set his team up in the usual 3-5-2 formation. With the ball, they changed frequently from a 3-3-4 to a 3-2-5. The difference here was McGoldrick and Norwood’s positions with and without the ball. With possession, they went wide with McGoldrick, in particular, trying to force mistakes out of Mustafi. Without the ball, both forwards went narrow as the team shifted to a 5-3-2.

The Blades went for the occasional high press. Every time the Gunners were uncomfortable with the ball, they smelt blood and tried to pounce, such was the fluidity of the opposition.

The first goal was a penalty scored by our record signing. Basham clipped Lacazette right at the edge of the box and the referee ruled it as a foul. Pepe converted the subsequent penalty into a goal, no mistake there.

When Rob Holding was subbed on for David Luiz, he was played in the same position similar to the game against Southampton. I think its fair to say that Holding is finally coming of age. Bar one missed header which led to a goal by McGoldrick, he performed well. Mustafi continues his resurgence of sorts under Arteta. The German won the most aerial duels for us (9), he looked solid in the air.

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There’s a reason why Aubameyang wasn’t brought on in the Sheffield vs Arsenal game, the striker needed a break. Another thing that struck me is the number of short passes Emiliano Martinez made today. During the Southampton vs Arsenal game, he frequently went long, but in this game, he kept trying to play out from the back even when the opposition were pressing high. He struggled a bit there.

The second half was where Arsenal struggled a lot, Sheffield United kept coming at us with a barrage of attacks. Club legend Billy Sharp was subbed on to provide an extra attacking option through the middle and they did score late in the Sheffield vs Arsenal game.

As I mentioned earlier, our set-piece defending was disastrous and laid bare. A comedy of errors led to the goal scored by McGoldrick. Most of us felt disappointed, some infuriated, while others somehow expected this to happen.


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Due appreciation should be given to the substitute Dani Ceballos. When Pepe lost the ball, I never expected the Spaniard to continue his run, collect the loose ball and score. Dean Henderson went for a Peter Schmeichel like spread as Ceballos slotted the ball into the far post in the final minutes of the game.

Defensively, we were not as good as the previous game. They took a total of 13 shots of which 4 were on target. We took a total of 10 shots of which 3 were on target. As expected, we saw more of the ball (59% possession to their 41%). Certainly, there are areas we need to improve. We have to improve both in our ball progression to the final-third (9 key passes to our 5) and our set-piece defending, for us to stand up to Manchester City.

Stay tuned to know more!

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