Arsenal v Sheffield United: Battling Blades can frustrate the Gunners

Sheffield United travel to the capital on Sunday, intent on frustrating Arsenal at the Emirates and Steve Rawlings fancies them to do just that...

Arsenal v Sheffield United
Sunday October 4, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports

Arteta's Arsenal are not yet firing

Having won the Community Shield on penalties, following their F.A Cup success just two months ago, Arsenal began their Premier League campaign in fine style, picking off Fulham away 3-0, but the Gunners followed that victory with an unconvincing 2-1 win at home to West Ham and they were no match for the champions, Liverpool, on Monday night at Anfield, despite taking the lead in the 25th minute.

Following Monday's 3-1 defeat, Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties on Thursday night in the Carabao Cup and the Gunners boss, Mikel Arteta, was pleased with the improvement.

"I am really happy with the performance. I think the boys were exceptional. We corrected a few things from Monday and it was superb."

How much credence we can give that result is highly debatable though. The Reds boss, Jurgen Klopp, doesn't bust a gut to win the domestic trophies and he made nine changes to the side that beat the Gunners on Monday. Beating a second-string Liverpool team on penalties in a competition they have no interest in competing in isn't an indicator of strong form and neither were their first two Premier League victories.

They huffed and puffed to edge past West Ham and Fulham have been really poor. The Cottagers are rooted to the bottom of the table and on closer inspection, Arsenal's overall form is nothing to write home about. According to their xG figures, they're creating very few chances and conceding plenty. They've comfortably lost the xG battle in each of their last two Premier League games and West Brom are the only team in the Premier League to have created fewer chances per game than Arsenal.

Battling Blades are due a break

Despite being firm favourites to get relegated last season, Sheffield United finished their first campaign back in the top-flight in ninth place - just two points below Sunday's opponents in eighth. The Blades performed so unexpectedly well that they even flirted with European qualification but they finished poorly - losing their last three matches. And they've continued in that vein this season with three narrow defeats in-a-row.

On paper, it really doesn't look good. They're the only team in the league that's yet to score a goal and only newly promoted Fulham are below them in the table but they've deserved more than they've got and they're due a bit of luck.

United were closely matched with Wolves in their opening game after going 2-0 down inside six minutes (game finished 2-0) and a controversial John Egan sending off in the 12th minute of their second encounter, away at Aston Villa, put them behind the eight ball in a game they went on to lose 1-0.

The Blades battled hard in both of their first two games and the fact that the Leeds keeper, Illan Meslier, was the Man of the Match at Bramall Lane last weekend, when all three points went the way of the Whites when Patrick Bamford headed home in the 86th minute, gives a big clue as to how that game panned out. It would be stretching it to say the Blades deserved to win, but they had enough chances to take the lead and they certainly didn't deserve to lose.

Expect a goal shy game at the Emirates

At around even money, it's quite tempting to have a chunky wager on Under in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market given how few chances Arsenal are creating and that less than three goals have been scored in each of Sheffield United's three games so far this season. Add in the fact that three or more goals were scored in only 26% of Blades away matches last season and the case for Under is stronger again but given the absolute glut of goals we're seeing so far this season; I'm curbing my enthusiasm.

There were 1,034 goals scored last season in the Premier League, which equated to an average of 2.72 goals per game, but with this ridiculous handball rule aiding considerably, we've already seen 103 goals this term, 18 of which have been penalties, and that equates to an average 3.68. Very nearly a goal a game more than last season.

Odds-on Arsenal worth opposing

Chris Wilder's Blades are due a change of luck and they might just get it on Sunday. They're unbeaten in their last nine games in London so they don't mind a foray south and Arsenal will have their work cut out to beat them.

United beat the Gunners at Bramall Lane 1-0 in their fifth home game last season and they came form behind to draw 1-1 at the Emirates in January. That was two of the 18 points that Arsenal have dropped from a winning position since Arteta took the reins in December and that's more than any other team in the Premier League over that period.

Given their poor xG figures this season and their inability to finish the job off under Arteta, Arsenal are worth taking on at 1.58.

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