The Gunners host Sheffield United on Sunday, with a response needed.
I believe the best way to approach the game against the Blades is to put all of our big guns into the lineup from the start. We should pepper the Sheffield United goal with a full artillery barrage in order to secure us three points.
Watching the games against United last year, I felt that we massively struggled to break down their compact 3-5-2 shape, causing us trouble in both games. We had the majority of the possession but were carved apart on the counter (as usual). Our failure to make the most of our possession advantage saw us gain just one point from the six up for grabs over the two games.
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To remedy this, I would like to see Arteta utilize a 4-3-3 from the beginning. Obviously, after the great display against Liverpool, Bernd Leno will get the start in goal. At the back, we should go with Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Magalhaes, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin. This will give us a healthy mix of speed and power in the air to dull the Blades’ attack – which, as it stands, haven’t scored in the Premier League this season.
Things get a little more complicated in the center of the park. I think it’s time to tinker with the mezzala approach for this game to squeeze in an additional playmaker. We need it to help break down the compact Sheffield defense.
Arteta should opt for a midfield three of Mohamed Elneny at the base, and Dani Ceballos and Willian to either side. I decided on Elneny because of his added mobility over Granit Xhaka – who can cover a lot less ground – not to mention his improvement on the ball this season.
Let’s see what the Brazilian can do in central areas. Why not?
I also believe that Xhaka needs a break after playing 150 minutes at Liverpool across the two games. If we don’t find games to rest him, he’s bound to get injured given the schedule congestion.
Up front, ideally Arteta will plump for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe. From a tactical perspective, this could be a risk, however; to break down the Blades well-drilled and compact defense, we need to take it.
As Arsene Wenger put it, “the only way to score is of course to play with the handbrake off”.
Our failures against the Blades last year were not from conceding too many chances, they were purely from not capitalizing on the constant pressure we put on their backline. I am a big proponent of not making the same mistake twice; we have the attacking stars, so why not put them on the field together and see what happens?
At the other end of the pitch, I do not believe this will overly expose us. All three forwards will work hard back tracking back, as ever. Willian will run relentlessly for the team, pressing forward and dropping back to help with the dirty work. What we need is creativity and individual brilliance for 90 minutes. This lineup gives us all of that in one powerful punch.
I believe that Willian is a truly unique talent, having played as an attacking midfielder for Brazil and on either wing for Chelsea. His starting position would be a little deeper than what he’s accustomed to, but he seems to have a natural ability to drift into dangerous positions and pick out that decisive final ball. This ability will be well served as a slightly deeper ‘half eight’.
He will get to see the runs developing in front of him and either pick out the early pass, or drive at the defenders and take them on, allowing Arsenal to get some movement in the final third and pull the defense out of shape. At present, we don’t have that player in the squad. The gaps that remain will need to be charged into by Bellerin and Tierney, creating the overloads needed to break down such a well-drilled side.
The full-backs will need to play very high, and intelligently, noticing the runs on the opposite side of the field. Maintaining balance and speed in this system is key to ensure any quick turnovers and counter-attacks by the Blades are kept in check. Oliver Burke up front is no slouch.
With all of our attacking firepower in the squad, we should be able to break down a difficult United team and score a few goals. The trick, of course, will be to maintain the balance that has become so crucial to Arteta’s approach.
I believe the players mentioned are more than capable of doing both. Let’s go gung ho against a side bereft of confidence and flood the team with attacking prowess. Why not?