Bukayo Saka celebrated his first England call-up with a goal as Arsenal beat Sheffield United 2-1 in the Premier League on Sunday.
The Gunners failed to fire in a poor first half at Emirates Stadium, but two goals in the space of three minutes from Saka and substitute Nicolas Pepe secured their third top-flight win out of four in 2020-21.
Mikel Arteta’s decision to leave out in-form striker Alexandre Lacazette was in danger of backfiring before Saka and Pepe rocked the Blades, who might feel aggrieved David Luiz was not sent off early on.
David McGoldrick gave Chris Wilder’s side hope with their first Premier League goal of the season seven minutes from time, but Arsenal held on.
The Blades have lost all four Premier League matches and will need Rhian Brewster, who was not signed in time to play in north London, to hit the ground running after the international break.
David Luiz was fortunate to get away with a tug on Oliver Burke’s shirt as he tried to race away following a mistake from the Arsenal defender early on.
The Gunners did not pose a threat until Aaron Ramsdale made amends for a poor clearance by tipping over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s long-range strike eight minutes before half-time.
Aubameyang was able to continue after going down following a sliding tackle from Sander Berge, who was shown a yellow card, and Ramsdale comfortably saved the Arsenal captain’s acrobatic effort late in a lacklustre first half.
An unmarked Aubameyang was a whisker away from getting on the end of Dani Ceballos’ clever first-time pass as Arteta’s side tried to raise the tempo.
Arsenal finally produced the quality they had been lacking to take the lead just after the hour mark, Saka finishing off a slick passing move by nodding Hector Bellerin’s cross from the right into the top corner at the back post.
Pepe added a second just six minutes after coming on, cutting in from the right after playing a one-two with Bellerin and clinically picking his spot in the far corner with his left foot.
McGoldrick curled home from 20 yards out to set up a tense finale and the striker flashed a shot wide in the closing stages with Ramsdale also sent up, but Arsenal were not to be denied all three points.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 4, 2020
What does it mean? Gunners must raise their game despite promising start
Arteta can head into the international break satisfied with an encouraging opening to the season, ending a week in which they lost to Liverpool in the league before beating them on penalties in the EFL Cup with a victory they would have been expected to secure against the Blades.
They had the quality to unlock the visitors in a devastating second-half spell, but they were clinging on at the end and that need not have been the case if they had shown more intensity going forward in a contest that saw them register just six shots.
United have lost all four league matches at the start of the season for only the third time, the previous occasion coming in the second tier back in 1995, and seven in a row in the league for the first time since September 1976.
Saka on a high, Bellerin makes his mark
Saka can head off for England duty with his confidence sky high after his header set Arsenal on their way to victory.
Pepe’s introduction gave Arsenal some impetus they had been lacking, the record signing making almost an instant impact after replacing the unconvincing Eddie Nketiah.
Bellerin also played a big role, laying on the first goal and playing in Pepe for the second, while also making four interceptions in an impressive performance at both ends.
It was not such a good afternoon for Arsenal striker Nketiah, who was replaced by Pepe after 58 minutes.
Nketiah was starved of service but did not do enough to trouble a well drilled United defence, heading off after having just one shot and making only nine successful passes.
Key Opta Facts
7 – Sheffield United have lost seven consecutive league matches for only the second time in their history, with their other seven-game losing run coming in August and September 1976. Concerning. #ARSSHU pic.twitter.com/xdyab1cnJZ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 4, 2020
– Arsenal have won nine of their last 11 home Premier League matches (D2) since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in Mikel Arteta’s first home game in charge in December.
– Nicolas Pepe’s goal for Arsenal came after a build-up of 19 passes, the most before a Premier League goal this season; indeed, of the nine goals scored this season with 10 or more passes in the build-up, four have been scored by the Gunners.
– Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has lost seven consecutive league matches as a manager for the first time since a run of 10 defeats in a row as Halifax Town manager between February and April 2004.
– This was Oliver Burke’s 18th Premier League appearance, with the Sheffield United player yet to end on the winning side (D3 L15) – Burke has played more games in the Premier League without winning than any other player in the history of the competition.
– The Blades scored their first Premier League goal of the season, with David McGoldrick’s goal their 31st attempt of the campaign.
Arsenal face a tough trip to Manchester City on October 17, while the Blades are at home to Fulham.
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