For second week in a row and God knows how many times this season, VAR took center stage in a Premier League game and Arsenal fans once again found themselves at the wrong end as they saw their team drop 2 points in a game which should have been sealed the moment Pepe was tripped inside the Blades box only for the referee and VAR to somehow not deem it as a foul.
In many ways the game was very much reminiscent of last week. Arsenal dominated the possession without creating much. Went ahead through the only clear cut chance they created and then failing to finish the game off, only to see the opposition crawl back in from a nothing-chance by taking advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration.
Arteta brought 18 year old Martinelli in the team to replace the suspended Aubameyang and it is fair to say the youngster did not disappoint.
After some early Blades pressure, Arsenal settled into their stride and began to threaten but failing to create anything noteworthy. The Gunners best threat came from the left wing operated by two 18 year old’s. With Xhaka instructed to cover the left back space and almost tuck in as the 3rd CB, Saka was allowed the freedom to burst into the opposition half with Martinelli then finding space to move into the box and provide a direct threat on goal.
Our first goal was in this fashion, when a neat one touch combination around the box between Ozil and Lacazette released Saka on the left and his deflected cross over the keeper’s head was tucked in nicely by Martinelli.
Arsenal have lost patience and technical ability
But apart from this moment, this game was a perfect depiction of what exactly Arsenal have lost under the 18 long months of Unai Emery. In the past, against teams like Sheffield United, Arsenal would have always looked to exert their style by playing a calm and patient possession game with enough technical ability in the midfield and threat in their forward line to create chances.
But today, they looked anything but calm and, instead of looking to dominate and push Sheffield back, the Gunners time and time again gave the ball away attempting to play early glory ball which resulted in unnecessary added pressure on our back line. This hardly allowed our midfield to be a creative force.
This lack of calm and patience in the build-up play was most evident on the right hand side when time and time again Niles tried to find the run of Pepe down the line and often failing. When the ball did find him, Pepe lacked the patience and intelligence to bring Arsenal’s midfield into play and too often lost the ball trying to play a solo game. For 72 Million it is fair to expect more than just dribbling from your wide player.
Lack of a ball carrier
Another problem that was evident to see was the lack of true ball carrier in our midfield. Xhaka and Torreira may be an ideal partnership against teams like Manchester United, who do more on the ball, but when teams like Sheffield United come to Emirates and sit deep, players like Torreira and Xhaka do not offer much offensively especially when the latter is playing a deep role and cannot venture much forward.
In this scenario, there is no surprise package in our midfield. It remains static with little to no offensive threat and our play becomes predictable and easy to defend against. For opponents the game is easy; take out Ozil from the game by closely marking him and there will be no extra midfield runner or creative player to worry about. No wonder we have looked so thin creatively in recent games despite dominating.
While in Xhaka and Torreira the Gunners have perhaps their best midfield partnership, it is not Arteta’s fault we allowed our most creative midfield players to leave for nothing without replacing them. Ozil alone can not carry the complete burden of creating chances, it is something that should come as a result of a collective team play and right now we do not have the personnel to play the beautiful game.
And when you struggle to create, you also struggle to kill games off and this has become something of a fixture and that is the reason why when Fleck found the ball in the back of the net, it all felt like a ‘deja vu’.
Both teams had their chances
Despite the issues with their performance, Arsenal would feel that they got cheated out of 2 points and why not. VAR was put in place in order to rectify referee errors and not to put a stamp of their approval on them. One can only wonder how a team of referees having the privilege to see replays from every desired angle come to the conclusion that Pepe was not fouled in the box. One can only wonder.
The penalty would have probably sealed the game for Arsenal at 2-0 but it was not to be. The Blades did little themselves but would feel that they too had enough half-chances to win the game especially that one corner that was cleared off the lines by Xhaka. So, all in all maybe the draw was not what both teams would be happy with but what both teams deserved at best on the merit of the play.
Top-4 is a write-off
Seems this season should be written off for Arsenal in terms of Top 4 and instead Arteta should focus on developing a squad for season ahead and make sure that they get as much accustomed to his style of play as possible. A cup run will help to lift the morale and confidence a great deal and that should be our priority, especially the Europa League which still provides Arsenal their best chance to salvage a broken season.
Arteta wants to make Emirates a fortress and on evidence of tonight, he has a lot of work to do. But at least we are moving in the right direction.