Saka and Pepe 7/10s help Arsenal to win over Sheffield United

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Arsenal returned to winning ways with what proved to be a nervy 2-1 win over Sheffield United at the Emirates on Sunday.

A dire first half was followed up by a fascinating second act as Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe put Mikel Arteta’s men in control before David McGoldrick made it interesting with a lovely strike in the 83rd minute. Thankfully for the Gunners, they held on to make it three wins from four to start the new Premier League season.

Positives

Once Arsenal began to implement quick one-touch passing, they were able to carve the Blades open and really make things happen in the final third. They mostly seemed capable of dealing with anything the visitors threw at them defensively too, proving that there is finally some sort of chemistry developing that will bode well against some of the Premier League’s more imposing sides.

Negatives

The constant desire to push down the wings didn’t work for the hosts for large periods of the game and, in the first half especially, they looked devoid of ideas. There’s also a continued hesitancy that has been creeping into their play with tackling as if they just don’t want to get stuck in. If they don’t start learning how to pull the trigger early on, they’ll be punished.

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Manager Rating

7 — Mikel Arteta kept the faith and put out an interesting starting XI but, in the first 45 minutes, it was clear to see that there simply wasn’t enough creativity out there. Some of their most vital players looked isolated and the Spaniard’s animation on the touchline couldn’t make up for that. What did, though, was his substitution, as Pepe brought a fresh approach that was sorely needed.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Bernd Leno, 6 — Arsenal’s No. 1 looked assured and never really came under threat of conceding until McGoldrick’s fantastic strike.

DF Gabriel Magalhaes, 7 — From tracking his man with ease to possessing real composure on the ball, this outing proved why the club has put so much faith in his abilities.

DF David Luiz, 6 — The controversial Brazilian was lucky not to be sent off after an early mistake — pulling the shirt of Oliver Burke when he looked through on goal — in what was a traditionally inconsistent showing.

DF Kieran Tierney, 6 — While his delivery was on point throughout the afternoon he wasn’t particularly efficient at the back and could have done more to stop Sheffield United’s goal.

DF Hector Bellerin, 7 — After looking like he’d lost a step with some poor defensive work, Bellerin burst into life with two vital assists in the second half.

MF Mohamed Elneny, 6 — Failed to do anything aside from moonlight as a centre-back for the first half but, as things went on, he grew in confidence and played an important role in the opener.

MF Dani Ceballos, 7 — Showed a lack of creativity in spells but worked incredibly hard to control the pace after Arsenal had taken the lead.

MF Bukayo Saka, 7 England‘s latest senior international shook off some physical challenges and adapted to Sheffield United’s style before scoring the opener with a perfectly placed header.

FW Willian, 5 — Went missing too often, leaving many Arsenal fans to question what exactly he’s done since his masterclass against Fulham.

FW Eddie Nketiah, 5 — It was a frustrating day at the office for the youngster who needs to improve his link-up play after looking like a deer in the headlights before being subbed off.

FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 6 — The Gunners’ star man didn’t get the delivery he needed but was still able to lay the ball off in the build-up to Saka’s goal.

Substitutions

MF Granit Xhaka, N/R — Failed to really take hold of Arsenal’s midfield after being brought on to do just that.

MF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, N/R — Helped to kill the game off in the final few minutes in what was one of his shorter cameos this season, although he was fortunate not to gift Sheffield United a goal in the dying minutes.

FW Nicolas Pepe, 7 — Introduced the kind of electricity that Arsenal were lacking, capping off his performance with a sensational run and goal.