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Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield United: 5 Things We Learned

By hook or by crook, three points were secured.

Two goals scored in Arsenal’s best period of the match wrapped up the win, one which went down to the wire when David McGoldrick netted Sheffiled United’s first goal of the season seven minutes from time.

With all the off-field happenings in the past could of days, it was more vital than ever that the mood was lifted with three points. Nothing else would’ve sufficed.

As seen with Mikel Arteta‘s celebrations at full-time, this meant an awful lot. As it stands, we’re in the top four and will be staying there ahead of matchday five of the Premier League. The season could end now and we’d all be rather chuffed.

Next: Arsenal Player Ratings vs Sheffield United

Crucially, we now head into a two-week international break – oh how lovely – with that winning feeling. Being left to simmer away knowing two, or even three, points were dropped would have been detrimental emotions to carry for the coming 13 days. Instead, we can reflect on something positive, even if it was a close call in the end.

Bukayo Saka Must Start Every Week

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 04: Bukayo Saka of Arsenal (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth – Pool/Getty Images)

This can’t be argued. Even after he ran himself into the ground on Thursday, he came in and was the standout player once more. What a week for our number seven.

No player in the side can carry the ball with pace in central areas like he does, but also with enough injection that it isn’t mere wasted energy. Saka breaks through lines. The only other player who seems capable of doing that in the squad at the moment is, funnily enough, Hector Bellerin.

Today he played in a role we’ve seen more of in recent outings. For periods in the first half he was granted the freedom to sit in the hole, with Kieran Tierney providing the width. Quite frankly it didn’t work, since the Blades just overloaded central areas and the passes to him wouldn’t stick.

His role, as with everyone else, fluctuates throughout the match, yet when he has the ball at his feet it doesn’t matter what position he’s, he’s the most dynamic in possession we have.

Saka must start every week. In a side devoid of flair, it’s him to offers the most cutting edge. He has an understanding of space you rarely see with someone his age, and if you ever wanted an example of how at ease he is, just look at the calm finish he produced for the opening goal.

Bellerin’s Impact in Attacking Areas is More Important Than it Should Be

The Spaniard has come alive in his new wing-back role, one that lessens the necessity to overlap and whip crosses in from afar and one that allows him to tuck inside and get on the ball more. While Saka was excellent on Sunday, on the other flank it was Bellerin who took it upon himself to drive Arsenal forward.

It was him who ran the inside channels after we found our feet in the second period, showing a willingness to be inventive that we hadn’t seen of him in previous formations. Excelling in that role, he lofted a perfect lob for the opener, before feeding Nicolas Pepe from that exact inside-right position for the second.

We have to applaud this approach from Arteta as well as the improvements that Bellerin is making in possession, but it shouldn’t be a case where we become over-reliant on our wing-backs to offer spark.

Sharing the workload in that department – and in all others – is part of the ethos Arteta is instilling, but it does still show that we’re sorely lacking in certain departments.

Arsenal Can’t Seem to Start Games Well

Arsenal’s Spanish manager Mikel Arteta (Photo by WILL OLIVER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

For me this stands out as one of the primary concerns at the moment. As against Fulham, West Ham, Liverpool (forgivable) and Sheffield United, there appears to be a bedding in period that the side have to get to grips with before we start moving the ball with pace.

It’s not just been this season, but something that has carried over from the previous term. Yet while these slow starts a concern, the mental resilience is far greater than we’ve seen from an Arsenal team for years.

Sticking to the plan and not losing focus has been a primary addition from Arteta’s reign. Even if the goals conceded from winning positions is still food for thought, in an attacking sense, the execution of the gameplan remains in tact.

It would just be nice to see us move the ball with more pace from the off. Sheffield United, as with Fulham and West Ham, all sought to frustrate in the early stages, but it appears to take a team talk or two to actually get the players kicking into gear. This was evident with Dani Ceballos playing more one-touch passes in the second period, and the link-up play in general ramping up in pace.

Gabriel’s Aerial Prowess is Invaluable

Gabriel of Arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 19: Gabriel Magalhaes of Arsenal (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The early scare between himself and David Luiz, which was much more Luiz’s fault despite the pass lacking much pace, seemed to unsettle him a touch. His passing didn’t have quite the same amount of zip to it for a period in the first hald, but it was still accurate and tempered.

When you look at a young(ish) centre-back making just his second home appearance and can only see slight issues in the speed of his distribution, then you know you’re on to a winner. I picked out the 22-year-old for praise in Thursday’s win, but I’ll do so again for another reason this time: his aerial prowess.

Winning six of his seven duels in the air, he was undeterred by the height of the Blades defenders and forwards, showing class in his defensive duties but equal measures of calmness in execution. The headers he won were not wild attempts to flick the ball away to safety, but measured reading of the play with enough spacial awareness to find a teammate.

On the ball he’s as good as we’ve seen in his position at the club for yonks, but that added steel for set plays in either box is a trait so vital to help permeate confidence throughout the back line. Arsenal are on to a winner with Gabriel. They really are.

How Telling is Alexandre Lacazette’s Omission?

Arsenal’s French striker Alexandre Lacazette (Photo by JASON CAIRNDUFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

This could be me reading into the situation too much, but of the matches we’ve played this season I’d have had Lacazette down to start this one above all. His physicality would’ve matched the Blades’ three central defenders, but Eddie Nketiah got the nod instead.

The thinking behind that will have come from the Englishman’s pace being more use dragging Sheffield United out of position, but it was still surprising not to see him play a single minute. Especially after hitting three in three in the league so far.

Throwing Nicolas Pepe on, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moving centrally allowed us to play natural wingers in their positions, something not seen very often in the last ten months. Was this a nod towards what will come in the future, or a sign that something may happen with Lacazette before the window shuts?

Most likely not, to be honest. Arteta loves trying new things to catch the opposition off guard, thus it was likely a tactical maneuver above all else. Still, a sign of what may come later down the line when the 4-3-3 we keep banging on about eventually comes to fruition, with Aubameyang resuming a centre-forward role. Some flexibility in the front line is important.

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