Fleck strikes as Sheffield hold Arsenal
- Sheffield United's outstanding first season back in the Premier League continued as John Fleck hit a late equaliser at Arsenal.
- The Blades were typically organised and threatening throughout but looked set for defeat when 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli steered in an opener for the hosts.
Sheffield United’s outstanding first season back in the Premier League continued as John Fleck hit a late equaliser at Arsenal.
The Blades were typically organised and threatening throughout but looked set for defeat when 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli steered in an opener for the hosts.
Arsenal dropped deeper as the game wore on and struggled to create too much, although Nicolas Pepe thought he should have been awarded a penalty after the break.
And Chris Wilder’s attacking substitutions were rewarded when Fleck hit a deflected shot into the far corner to keep the seventh-placed Blades four points clear of the Gunners.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was facing a stacked in-tray for his first job in management and the Spaniard has now overseen one win in his first five league games in charge.
Without suspended captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the Gunners were always likely to be lacking a goal threat. After all, the Gabon forward had scored 48% of their league goals this season.
But Alexandre Lacazette – his replacement as skipper – is hardly a novice, and with Mesut Ozil and Pepe in support the Gunners could still boast a £160m strikeforce.
But it was Martinelli, just 18 and making his fourth league start, who was the pick.
He volleyed wide from a smart Pepe cross, shot into the side-netting after more quick feet from the winger, and then gambled to convert the opener after makeshift left-back Bukayo Saka saw his cross loop up into the goalmouth.
The watching Aubameyang was moved to declare him a “superstar” in waiting in a post on social media.
Arteta could point to his side having over 60% of possession.
Plenty to do for Arteta
Arteta could point to his side having over 60% of the possession, but Blades keeper Dean Henderson was largely untroubled – making just three saves.
Blades bouncing again
If Arsenal’s expensively assembled attack failed to add much spark, it was the other end of the pitch which showed where work is needed in this and future transfer windows.
Alarm bells were ringing for some Gunners fans with the arrival of the teamsheets. Two wingers, a perennial scapegoat and David Luiz made up a back four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Saka, Shkodran Mustafi and the Brazil centre-back.
Arteta brought on Eddie Nketiah to a hero’s reception, but the hosts’ only shot on target in the second half was a tame header in stoppage time.
Not even the video assistant referee could come to the rescue as the cameras backed Mike Dean’s decision to not award a penalty when Pepe went down after a driving run down the right. The frustration felt by the forward summed up the Gunners’ second-half showing.
The Blades had not won at Arsenal since August 1971, but they have hardly done anything but win since Wilder took charge in the summer of 2016, and they arrived at Emirates Stadium in confident mood.
In contrast to Arteta’s side – who at times looked as makeshift and thrown together as they are at the moment – this United side are absolute in their positional play. Every player knows where they need to be at all times and they grew in stature as the game wore on.
Lys Mousset wasted a good early headed chance, Oli McBurnie should have done better when his miscued header was cleared off the line, and the club record signing then had another good chance well charged down.
Wilder introduced forwards Billy Sharp and Callum Robinson and was rewarded for his positive intent when Robinson’s cross was nodded on by Sharp for the arriving Fleck. The midfielder had plenty to do but controlled his strike nicely, hitting down into the deck and seeing the bounce carry the ball past the dive of Bernd Leno.
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