Relief! That’s the word I would describe our victory against the Saints. Collectively, we were much stronger defensively and nullified the supply lines to the in form Danny Ings and dangerous Shane long. Whilst there’s still plenty to work on, hopefully this result gives us the momentum needed to provide more consistency for the remainder of the campaign. Up next is a tricky trip in the FA cup against Chris Wilders side and despite their poor form since the restart, it’s still going to be a tough test.
Sheffield United: Strengths and style of play
They really have been a breath of fresh air since their arrival to the premier league. Massive credit goes to Wilder as he’s implemented a clear style of football, along with well drilled patterns of play, that’s brought them so much success in the championship. He’s kept faithful to his tried and tested methods and it’s been a big reason as to why they are in contention for a place in Europe.
A 3-5-2 formation is deployed but with its own tweaks, with every player knowing their roles both in and out of possession. Usually you associate a 3 at that back system with a team that sits deep and relies on the counter, with wing backs pushing forward to create width, and a flexible front three who interchange to cause problems to the opposition.
Sheffield United, however, favour a possession based style of football, averaging 47% possession at home and 44% away. The real tactical innovation implemented is the overlapping outside centre backs down the wide areas, creating overloads which has caused teams all sorts of problems. The two excellent ball playing wide centre halves push forward, supporting the wing backs. Oliver Norwood has the task of dropping back, allowing the two adventurous midfielders to fill the opposition box. The wing backs either drift in midfield to provide compactness or will support the two wide centre halves. The goal threat of Lundstram and Fleck in the middle, combined with good service out wide has been a successful pattern of play for the Blades.
Certainly very effective in possession and out of possession, they show resilience. Tactically, they switch to a back 5, with a 5-3-2 formation, making it difficult for the opposition to break them down. Statistically, it shows, as the Blades have conceded 31 goals from the 31 games played, with only Liverpool and Leicester conceding less.
Tactics and areas of weakness to exploit
It’s always difficult to play against a side that is well drilled, compact and doesn’t provide spaces to exploit. On top of that, they can cause you problems when on the ball. Regardless of the formation and system Arteta is looking to implement, we have to move the ball quickly. We’ve been guilty too often this season with players, particularly in midfield, taking far too many touches on the ball, slowing down the pace and intensity of our game. It’s very easy for players to keep their positional shape when faced against pedestrian football.
Just look at how Manchester City and Liverpool both beat Sheffield United this season. Quick, interchangeable, free flowing football, opened up spaces out wide and in between the lines, which caused their players to switch off and lose their positional disincline, and they were punished for it.
Rewind back to our game against them at the Emirates and you’ll remember the Martinelli goal. In the first half, we struggled to break them down because our intensity in possession was too lethargic. But there was one passage of play where we moved the ball quickly, with a quick exchange between Lacazette and Ozil allowed Saka to whip a dangerous ball for Martinelli to convert. Xhaka’s presence in midfield is key. Him playing that deep lying playmaker role, will help us quicken our tempo as he’s capable of releasing the ball quickly and breaking the lines. In terms of how we should set up, I think that we should deploy a similar system used against Southampton.
I was very pleased with how we nullified any threat down the wide areas against Southampton and it’s because out of possession we deployed a 5-3-2 formation. If we look at Sheffield United’s possession statistics in the attacking third, 42% comes from the right and 39% down the left which isn’t surprising considering how the ‘overlapping centre halves’ regularly support the wing backs. Setting up with a 5-3-2 will help stifle creativity out wide.
In possession, I believe we should shift to a 3-4-3, with Xhaka slotting in as left back to allow Saka, at left centre midfield, and Tierney to create overloads with Aubameyang playing close to Nketiah. One notable weakness I’ve seen of Sheffield United since the Premier league has resumed is down the wide areas. It’s clear that they have struggled to adjust to the tempo, with defenders making uncharacteristic errors which is encouraging. Both Newcastle United’s Allan Saint Maximin and Matt Richie caused them problems throughout the game, with both getting on the score-sheet. Similar problems were evident against Manchester United with Rashford creating chaos on the left along with Wan Bisaaka, who was effective when combining with Greenwood. With Saka, Tierney and Pepe, we have plenty of quality to cause them problems out wide.
In terms of team selection, I’d keep the back four as it is along with the keeper. Rob Holding’s dominant display against the Saints, particularly aerially is promising especially how threatening Wilder’s team are in set pieces. Their winner at Bramall Lane earlier into the season came from a corner so both centre halves must maintain high concentration levels in these instances. Controversially in midfield, I’d put Ozil, alongside Xhaka and Saka.
We have to assume Sheffield United are going to perform at their maximum level and we need someone who can play in between the lines and support Pepe. Ceballos has been poor, not releasing the ball quick enough and Bellerin isn’t proving any overlapping situations. Willock is a good shout but we need someone who can play and drift in between the lines, and pick out the runners. I know he needs to be moved on and his better days are beyond him but he’s the best we have to fulfil that role currently. He must however, be consistent in supporting others out of possession.
Our quick front three will certainly cause problems if utilised correctly. Greenwood, Martial and Rashford showed that pace is an area their 3 centre halves struggle with, which we have in abundance with in Aubameyang, Nketiah and Pepe. They’ll make the runs and I’ve got more confidence with Xhaka and Ozil in the side that they’ll be rewarded. Hopefully!
Lineup: Martinez, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney, Xhaka, Ozil, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang
It’s not the same Sheffield United we would have feared had there not have been a global pandemic. They’re used to playing one game a week and with games coming thick and fast ,along with limited squad depth, I’m quietly confident. Errors along with inconsistent defensive shape gives me optimism. The FA cup is a great opportunity for Arteta to win silverware and with not much to play for in the league, I would go with the strongest possible line up available.
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22 years of age, 22 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.