Arsenal v Sheffield United: Frugal Blades can thwart Gunners

Arsenal host Sheffield United at the Emirates on Saturday and Steve Rawlings isn't expecting a flurry of goals...

Arsenal v Sheffield United
Saturday January 18, 15:00

Green shoots are evident but work still to do

It's never easy to replace a highly successful manager, just ask a Manchester United fan. The Red Devils are now on their fourth permanent appointment since Sir Alex left Old Trafford in 2013 and the current incumbent, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is a fairly short price to be the Next Manager to Leave their Premier League post.
Top-flight English football is cyclical though. It's not like Scotland, Spain or Germany. No team dominates for decade after decade after decade - just look at Liverpool. Far and away the most successful club of the 1970s and 80's, it's now 30 years since they were English Champions and nobody would have believed that possible after they'd won the old Division One title for the tenth time in 15 seasons in 1990.
Whether Arsenal retained the services of their most successful ever boss, Arsène Wenger, a bit too long is still debatable but replacing him was always going to be tough and the fall guy, Unai Emery, was sacked last month when it became patently obvious that the Gunners were only going further backwards under the Spaniard. The question now is whether fellow Spaniard and former Arsenal player, Mikel Arteta, will be able to move the club forward?
Pep Guardiola's apprentice has begun his monumental task admirably enough and since Arteta took the reins, Arsenal have won two, drawn two and lost just once - 2-1 at home to Chelsea - and importantly, the new gaffer has stemmed the tide of goals conceded.
Arsenal drew their final game under interim boss, Freddie Ljungberg, 0-0 at Everton, but prior to that, the Gunners had conceded at least once in their previous 14 matches in all competitions. They've now kept three clean sheets in their last six and they've drawn two matches 1-1 - away at Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
The greens shoots of recovery are evident and Mesut Ozil, who failed to shine under Emery, has offered up a few clues as to why.
"It's basically getting us back to the old Arsenal virtues. Fighting and having possession, being in control of the game, having the ball all the time. These are the things that he (Arteta) is working on with us and you can see it. Everyone is smiling, laughing, enjoying their time. It has made us successful. I think he is the right man at this club."
It's a decent start but declaring the team as successful is a bit premature and given Arsenal have won just one of their last seven Premier League home games, and that the man responsible for 14 of their 29 Premier League goals this season, their captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is suspended, I'm in absolutely no rush to back them at odds-on here against the season's surprise package, Sheffield United.

Brilliant Blades can't be underestimated

Sheffield United fans are in clover. Having been promoted last season when finishing second to Championship winners, Norwich, who are currently rooted to the bottom of the Premier League and trading at 1.10 to be relegated, the Blades were matched at just 1.62 to be relegated before the season had even began but they've caught everyone by surprise and they're very nicely placed in sixth place after their tenacious but deserved 1-0 win at home to West Ham last weekend.
Having lost just one of their previous 12 in the Premier League and without a defeat in nine games on the road, United spent Christmas Day in fifth place in the table. They lost their 10th and 11th away games of the season either side of the New Year celebrations but given they were against the champions, Manchester City, and the champions elect, Liverpool, both by 2-0, it could hardly be argued that the wheels have fallen off.
Drawing a blank at the Etihad and Anfield is something most clubs do and the fact that they bounced back to beat a resurgent Hammers side enjoying a new manager bounce under David Moyes, speaks volumes. Blades boss, Chris Wilder, has been rewarded with a three-year contract extension and rightly so.
What Sheffield United have achieved so far this season is remarkable and they shouldn't be underestimated. They're a very well-organised unit that's very strong defensively and runaway league leaders, Liverpool, are the only side to have conceded less goals than the Blades.

Stats point to low scoring affair

The stats would suggest that the odds-on about Yes in the Both Teams to Score market is correct. Both sides have found the net in only 41% of games involving Sheffield United but that percentage rises to 55% when looking at their away matches in isolation and the percentage of Arsenal games that sees both sides score rises from 68% to 73% when we only look at matches played at the Emirates. If I had to make a pick it would be No at odds-against but I much prefer the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market.
As already stated, Arsenal have shored things up in the last month and in their six games in all competitions, since they lost 3-0 at home to Manchester City on December 15, only once has there been more than two goals scored - in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea - and the recent record of Sheffield United matches is even more frugal.
Fylde grabbed what transpired to be merely a late consolation goal in the third round of FA Cup two weeks ago, which saw the game end 2-1 to the Blades, but in each of their last six Premier League games, no more than two goals have been scored.
The Blades aren't a deadly force going forward and no side has had fewer shots on target in the Premier league this season than them but only Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City have faced fewer shots than United.
The absence of Aubameyang, combined with the newly shored up Gunners back line and the always thrifty Blades defence suggests the run of low scoring encounters for both sides is set to continue and at just a shade of odds-on Under in the Under/Over 2.5 Goals market looks well worth taking

Odds-on Arsenal have to be opposed

History points firmly in the direction of a home win. Since beating the Gunners at Highbury way back in 1971, Sheffield United are winless in their last nine away games against Arsenal and that stretch includes only one draw.
The Blades beat Arsenal at Bramhall Lane 1-0 in the reverse fixture in October but we have to go all the way back to the 1946-47 season to find the last time they completed a league double against them and the Gunners haven't lost both league encounters to a newly-promoted side since Blackburn beat them twice in the 1992-93 season. An away win looks implausible if history has anything to do with the outcome on Saturday but I certainly wouldn't want to be siding with Arsenal at odds-on.
We're already passed the halfway stage of the season and United's lofty position is no fluke. There's an argument to be made that teams will no more about them when they face them a second time and they've been fortunate with injuries up until now but they can't be underestimated.
Laying Arsenal in the outright market makes sense and if that's something you fancy doing but you're not too sure about, the 'Exchange How-To' Hub here will help. Alternatively, taking the odds-against about the Draw or Away outcome in the Double Chance market is effectively the same thing.

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