Arsenal Sheffield United
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: Unai Emery, Manager of Arsenal sits on an advertising board on the sideline during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Arsenal FC at Bramall Lane on October 21, 2019 in Sheffield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Arsenal put in a typical performance against Sheffield United on Monday night. That is, a performance typical of their Premier League season thus far; they were dull, unimaginative and, ultimately, came out second-best.

For Unai Emery and the rest of the club to climb back into the Champions League, they will have to change their system, else the 1-0 defeat to the Blades will define the Gunners’ campaign.

Typical Arsenal Fall to Sheffield United

Same Plan, Same Results

The starting XI for Arsenal was fine. Perhaps if pressed, Kieran Tierney could have started at left-back over Sead Kolasinac, but other than that Emery couldn’t really pick a better team.

However, once the match got going the same old cracks came to light for Arsenal. Their 68% possession translated into a mere three shots on target, only one more than the hosts.

Plus, just one of the three lonely shots on target came from inside the box. That was a 58th-minute strike from Dani Ceballos which scored just a .07 xG according to Understat. The sole big chance for Arsenal at Sheffield United fell to Nicolas Pepe in the 20th minute, but the Ivory Coast international could not find the target.

This dearth of offensive production typifies the Gunners’ season to date. They simply aren’t creating as many chances as their big six rivals, at least in the Premier League.

That lack of productivity was complimented by a general lack of desire from the players. They seemed lazy on the ball; Arsenal expected to turn up against Sheffield United and win three points without an effort.

The passing was sluggish, the movement off the ball was tepid and there was very little creative imagination to break down the hosts. This is a worrying turn of events.

Emery’s Explanation

Speaking after the match, Unai Emery had some interesting insights:

“We did not deserve to lose and we conceded a lot of corners in the first half and they scored in one action. Above all, we have to improve by not allowing balls like that. When we have our opportunities to attack, we created more chances than them but did not score today.

“We deserved more from the game but they have conceded the least goals in the Premier League and it was going to be difficult if they scored first. We tried in the second half, created three good chances to score.

“The scorer was with our goalkeeper and we had three players free to attack the ball. They gave us a key moment – the goal and another one when we should have had a clear penalty on Sokratis.

Bukayo Saka drives forward but I do not know if it was a penalty. It is a hard action for a yellow card. With VAR, the foul on Sokratis should have been reviewed. It was clear but we have to accept it.”

Single events in a match can affect the result. However, the fact that Arsenal didn’t really come close to earning a win at Sheffield United wasn’t down to one or two events. Rather, it was down to a system which does not work.

Last Word

Arsenal are already falling off the pace from the likes of Leicester City and Manchester City in the race for a top-four finish. The imminent returns of Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding should help, but they won’t solve all the issues.

The only man who can solve Arsenal’s biggest issues at the moment is Unai Emery. He needs to find a way to turn possession into shots on target and prevent mental errors like not marking an opponent during a set piece.

If he can’t, or doesn’t, then both he and Arsenal are in very big trouble this season.

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