Lacazette doubles up as Arsenal make light work of Blades
Martinelli also on the scoresheet as Sheffield United lose again at Bramall Lane
Alexandre Lacazette scores Arsenal’s third against Sheffield United. Photograph: Tim Keeton/Getty
Sheffield United 0 Arsenal 3
This was never going to be the night that will define Arsenal’s season and the level of pressure Mikel Arteta will face in the months ahead: that is in five days’ time in Prague. But with that in mind, a performance and a result to set up a match which will dictate whether the Gunners’ best avenue into Europe next season remains open was certainly welcome for Arteta.
Granted, if they could have handpicked a side to face ahead of their return leg against Slavia Prague on Thursday, it would have been Sheffield United. Painfully lacking in quality once again here, their relegation from the Premier League could be confirmed as soon as next weekend after another meek display against a side themselves somewhat shorn of confidence following recent displays.
But Arsenal still had to get the job done here, and keep their faint hopes of European qualification via the league alive. What happens in the two domestic cup competitions could yet shape the probability of that occurring. In the end, this was a straightforward enough outcome: a point that will certainly be pleasing for Arteta, given how his side have the habit of making life undeniably more stressful than it needs to be on occasions.
Two well-taken goals from Alexandre Lacazette were the highlight, but it was Arsenal’s all-round display that will have pleased Arteta the most. Resolute at the back, and looking much more lively in attack, this was everything the Arsenal manager would have hoped to see ahead of their trip to Prague in the week.
Arteta sprung a surprise by naming Granit Xhaka at left-back, pushing Bukayo Saka further forward into an advanced role behind Alexandre Lacazette. But as the half wore on, that decision to free Saka into an attacking role certainly paid off, and by the time the game’s opening goal arrived just after the half-hour mark, it was no less than Arsenal deserved.
Sheffield United, as they have been so often this season, were certainly not short on effort. The best chance in the early exchanges fell to the hosts, when David McGoldrick shot wide, but Arsenal soon established a dominant grip on proceedings. And there were clear tell-tale signs throughout the half that, eventually, the visitors’ pressure would be rewarded with a goal.
It could, and perhaps should, have come sooner than it did, too. Aaron Ramsdale was somewhat fortunate when his attempted clearance bounced off Lacazette and into his hands, before Gabriel Martinelli fired wide of Ramsdale’s goal after being freed on the left. And by the time Callum Chambers’ shot was blocked on the line by John Egan, it felt like a matter of time.
Saka was heavily involved in the moment which broke the deadlock, too. A sublime passage of build-up play saw Saka and Dani Ceballos combine, with the latter’s wonderful backheel freeing Lacazette in the area. The Frenchman had the composure and precision to guide the ball past the oncoming Ramsdale, and put the visitors into the lead.
Mercifully for the hosts, that goal did not stem the tide of pressure, either. Martinelli’s goalbound shot was blocked by a diving David McGoldrick to deny Arsenal a second, and the fact that a tame effort from Egan which was easily saved by Bernd Leno represented the hosts’ best chance of the half underlined that, by the interval, they would have been grateful to go in only one behind.
But the momentum remained with Arsenal after the interval. Paul Heckingbottom rolled the dice and introduced Rhian Brewster and Oli McBurnie to try and spark the Blades’ attack into life. It didn’t work. The second Arsenal goal was always coming, and when it did, it came from an unforgivable Sheffield United error.
John Lundstram needlessly gave the ball away in his own half, and while Ramsdale did well to save Nicolas Pépé’s goal-bound effort, he could only palm it into the path of Martinelli, who tapped in to double Arsenal’s lead. Realistically, even with half an hour left, that was the game done and dusted.
There wasn’t even so much of a sniff of a grandstand finish from the home side, who are heading back to the Championship with a whimper. And Arsenal made their hosts pay in the final five minutes, when Lacazette claimed his second with an expert finish after being played through by Thomas Partey as the Blades’ defence was cut open with all too familiar ease. Their season has long since been over: but Arsenal’s still hangs firmly in the balance. - Guardian