Best odds: 13/5
Arsenal are set to welcome Sheffield United to the Emirates on Saturday in what will be a part of the 23rd round of the current season in the Premier League.
Much like their North London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal had a very disappointing start to the season, with one underwhelming result followed by another. Finally, when they got very much stuck in the bottom half of the table, the last bubble of optimism popped and manager Unai Emery got his marching orders. He was temporarily replaced by Freddie Ljungberg, and eventually former midfielder, club captain and Manchester City assistant manager Mikel Arteta was appointed on a three-and-a-half-year contract.
Arteta has changed a few things around since coming in, most notably restoring Mesut Ozil to his former role which had become much less prominent under Emery, and switching back to a 4-2-3-1 formation as his first choice when it comes to shaping his team. The results still haven’t quite kicked in – Arteta has so far led the team in four league outings: a draw away to Bournemouth, a defeat at home to Chelsea, a win at home over Manchester United, and a draw away to Crystal Palace last week. But there is a visible change in the approach of the players to their responsibilities on the pitch, resulting in a much better performance. The defence has been culpable on occasion with familiar troubles appearing on the horizon, but those moments have become few and far apart as the whole team shows commitment to defending – something that used to be a big problem with Emery in charge, as the ex-boss himself admits.
Be that as it may, Arsenal are currently in the middle of the table, sitting 10th with 28 points from the 22 games played so far.
There will be a few notable absentees for Arteta. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent off against Crystal Palace the three-match suspension has been confirmed following Arsenal’s appeal, so he is definitely out. The same goes for right-back Hector Bellerin, which means we’re likely to see young Ainsley Maitland-Niles in that role again. Left-back Kieran Tierney is also out, as is centre-back Calum Chambers.
All three teams promoted from the Championship started their top-flight campaigns remarkably well, but Sheffield United are the only among them that have proved capable of maintaining their level of performance in the long run. While Aston Villa and Norwich City both reside in the relegation zone right now, the Blades are up there with the best, sitting in sixth place with 32 points to their name and hoping to secure a spot in Europe. To put it in perspective, they are above not only Arsenal, but Spurs as well, and they’re only two points behind Manchester United in fifth. They could even overtake Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team given that United play away to their fierce rivals and untouchable league leaders Liverpool, but they would still need to win here.
Manager Chris Wilder has put together a fine unit of hard-working, quality individuals who click together like a well-oiled machine. Some of his tactical ideas we’ve seen have caused quite a few eyebrows to be raised as well.
Goalkeepers Simon Moore and Michael Verrips have recently been injured, but both of them have reportedly recovered and Wilder should have the full squad at his disposal – a rare feat in this stage of the season.
In a game like this, where the home team, technically probably better but in a transition phase, plays against a well-drilled, physical opponent, the outcome often depends much on whether the player expected to make a difference delivers on that or not. In this case, the finger points at Ozil. If the German plays to the best of his abilities, the rest of the Gunners should have no problems feeding off that creative energy and raising the bar over the reach of the visitors.
However, Ozil has never been known for his consistency, and if the Blades put the right amount of pressure on him from the right angles, his influence could be completely nullified and then the game would probably unfold in a very different way, especially with Aubameyang unavailable.
Best odds: 13/5
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