Arsenal ended a four-game winless streak as Alexandre Lacazette scored twice in a routine 3-0 win over relegation-bound Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing through illness, Lacazette clinically swept the Gunners in front (33) to complete a brilliant team move before Gabriel Martinelli scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt for 15 months following a serious knee injury (71).
Lacazette was ice cool to slot home his 50th Premier League goal in the final five minutes as Arsenal moved back up to ninth place ahead of their Europa League quarter-final second leg with Slavia Prague on Thursday.
Rock bottom Sheffield United’s fate is close to being sealed. They are 18 points adrift of 17th-placed Newcastle with 21 points left to play for as the Sky Bet Championship beckons.
Sheff Utd: Ramsdale (6), Egan (6), Ampadu (5), Stevens (5), Baldock (5), Fleck (5), Lundstram (5), Norwood (5), Osborn (6), Burke (5), McGoldrick (6).
Subs: McBurnie (5), Mousset (5), Brewster (5).
Arsenal: Leno (6), Chambers (7), Holding (7), Pablo Mari (6), Saka (7), Thomas (7), Xhaka (7), Pepe (7), Ceballos (8), Martinelli (7), Lacazette (8).
Subs: Willian (6), Nketiah (n/a), Elneny (n/a).
Man of the match: Alexandre Lacazette.
Gunners end wait for Bramall Lane win
Mikel Arteta said he was in shock after Arsenal lost 3-0 at home to Liverpool last weekend, with his side registering just two shots on target.
After what was described as an “unacceptable” performance, this was the perfect response and a much-needed boost of confidence heading into the crucial Europa League trip to Prague.
- John Egan returned to the United starting line up. The defender, who only recently made his comeback following six weeks out with a dislocated toe, captained the team at Bramall Lane. His inclusion was one of three changes made by interim boss Paul Heckingbottom as Ethan Ampadu and Oliver Burke were also recalled.
- Arsenal were without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard. However, Calum Chambers was fit to start after he was absent with a knock in midweek and Gabriel Martinelli started up front alongside Alexandre Lacazette. Bukayo Saka returned while Granit Xhaka filled in at left-back in place of the injured Kieran Tierney.
While that competition still offers Arsenal their best hope of European football next season, it was important they ended a four-game winless streak at Bramall Lane.
In the absence of Martin Odegaard and Aubameyang, Martinelli and Dani Ceballos seized their opportunity, and Martinelli came close to breaking the deadlock after 24 minutes when he was fed by Ceballos but his shot was driven into the side-netting.
The Brazilian teenager tested Aaron Ramsdale with his next chance as the deflection off Oliver Norwood made his effort from the edge of the box awkward for the Blades ‘keeper, who gathered at the second attempt.
But Arsenal were not to be denied the breakthrough before the interval as they struck first in typically free-flowing fashion.
It was a goal of real beauty as some lovely one-touch football around the edge of the penalty area involved Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey and Ceballos, whose deft backheel flick eventually put Lacazette through on goal to slide the ball beneath Ramsdale.
9 – Alexandre Lacazette has scored 12 Premier League goals this season, with nine of them coming away from home – only Mohamed Salah (11) has scored more away goals in the competition this season. Roadie. pic.twitter.com/KgcWgrPIjn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 11, 2021
It extended Lacazette’s impressive record on the road this season – nine of his 12 Premier League goals have come away from home – just nine of his first 37 in the competition across three seasons had come on the road.
Barring a dragged shot from David McGoldrick, Bernd Leno had not been tested, but it was clear that Blades interim boss Paul Heckingbottom had looked to inject some urgency into his players upon the restart.
Sheffield United entered the game unbeaten in all four home Premier League matches against Arsenal, yet they ought to have fallen further behind inside 10 minutes of the second period when Nicolas Pepe was released down the right and selflessly picked out Lacazette on the edge of the box but the forward scuffed his shot wide.
There was concern for Arteta – and for England – shortly after the hour mark when Saka hobbled off with a thigh injury sustained in a challenge with Rhian Brewster, with ice applied to the troublesome area immediately upon his withdrawal.
But this would turn into another difficult night for Heckingbottom and Sheffield United as they stared down the barrel of a 25th Premier League defeat of the season when Martinelli doubled Arsenal’s lead with 19 minutes remaining.
The 19-year-old reacted quickest to tap the ball into an empty net after Ramsdale had parried Pepe’s shot, registering his first goal in 446 days since scoring against Chelsea in January 2020.
It was now a case of how many and it became an increasingly passive display from the hosts thereafter.
The Blades looked lost and showed the effects of a testing season as a third Arsenal goal duly arrived when Lacazette raced onto Partey’s gorgeous through-ball to reverse his shot beyond Ramsdale. Victory keeps alive Arsenal’s European qualification chances via the league with the focus now turning to Prague.
What the managers said
Sheffield United interim boss Paul Heckingbottom: “It shows how fine the margins are. I didn’t think we had enough control in the first half.
“But we conceded a really poor goal which took the game away from us. A key moment. I thought Arsenal played through our press well in the first half.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Seven more games and we won’t be given anything. The players know they are playing for everything. These are the moments that make you hungry as a football manager and I will make sure the players feel that way.
“We didn’t have control without the ball in the first half so we had to make changes. We’ll keep fighting and pushing to make sure we get more points before the end of the season.
“We have a varied group, some young boys just starting their journey and some older players who have been on a journey with this club over the last five years. You have to learn from the tough moments and come back stronger.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “We had a really strong performance and a clean sheet which was needed after a long time. We were efficient and intelligent with the ball. We showed the right attitude so overall I’m really happy. Winning always breeds confidence and we will need that heading into Thursday.
On Saka’s injury: “Saka had discomfort in his thigh which is the last thing that we needed. We’ve got a few players out at the moment so the last thing we need is another one.
“I don’t know the extent of Saka’s injury. We’ll have to see how it develops in the next few days. I’m delighted with Gabriel but I ask you to be patient as we shouldn’t compare him with other 19-year-olds. He’s got an incredible attitude and talent. He’s got an incredible future in front of him but we have to manage him.
“I’m not aware [of the clamour to give him starts] but I’m sure there’s always debate over who should be playing. That happens most of the time if you don’t win.”
Man of the match – Alexandre Lacazette
Lacazette is the sixth Frenchman to score 50 Premier League goals for a single club, with four of the six doing so for Arsenal (also Thierry Henry, Olivier Giroud and Robert Pires).
Lacazette said: “It was important we won and it was a great day for us. I missed an easy chance on Thursday and so I wanted to score.
“The confidence was lacking a little bit. We know we have the quality but sometimes we miss a little bit at both ends of the pitch.”
On Lacazette’s first goal, Arteta said: “It was a typical Arsenal goal with high quality. The movement was really good and Laca is playing really well at the moment. He’s full of confidence. In the past six or seven months, I’ve seen a big change in the way he interacts with his team-mates and we need his type of character in the team.”
- In Premier League history, only Chelsea (42) have beaten the side starting the day bottom of the table more than Arsenal, with this win the Gunners’ 37th such victory (alongside Spurs).
- Sheffield United have suffered their 25th league defeat of the season, the most by a non-newly promoted side since Huddersfield in 2018-19 (28). Indeed, each of the previous 12 Premier League sides to lose 25+ matches in a season have been relegated, with 10 of those finishing rock bottom.
- Arsenal have secured their first Premier League victory at Bramall Lane at the fifth attempt of asking (D2 L2), with this their first league win there since April 1991.
- Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last four away games in the Premier League (W2 D2), their longest such run of the season. Indeed, the Gunners have earned more victories on the road (7) than they have at the Emirates this season (6).
- Arsenal have won 66.6% of their six Premier League games this season without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (W4 D1 L1), compared to 36% of those with him in the team (9/25).
- Paul Heckingbottom has seen his Sheffield United side concede 10 goals during his three Premier League games in charge, the joint-most after a manager’s first three games in the competition, alongside David Moyes (2002, Everton) and Christian Gross (1997, Spurs).
Sheffield United visit Wolves next Saturday at 3pm, live on Sky Sports.
Arsenal travel to face Slavia Prague in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday before hosting Fulham in the Premier League next Sunday, live on Sky Sports, at 1.30pm.