Paul Heckingbottom gives frank verdict on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal ahead of Sheffield United clash


Sheffield United caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom believes Arsenal are where they deserve to be ahead of facing the Blades this weekend.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners sit tenth in the Premier League after a disappointing season to date with Arsenal facing the prospect of not qualifying for European football next season.

Going into the game against the Premier League’s bottom club on Sunday, Arsenal are nine points behind fifth-placed Chelsea with eight games to play, with the Europa League looking like their most realistic route back into Europe next season, as things stand.

However, Arsenal have work to do there as well after conceding a late equaliser in the quarter-final first leg of their tie with Slavia Prague, giving the Czech side something to hold onto next week.

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But before Arsenal make the trip to Prague, they have a game at Bramall Lane on Sunday, with the doomed Blades their next opponents.

And Heckingbottom has given a frank assessment of where Arsenal are at ahead of facing the Gunners, with Arteta’s men looking set to miss out on a place in the top six this season.

“You can say that but we are at the stage of the season where you are where you deserve to be,” he said, when asked if Arsenal were underachieving.

“You have seen in their games they can really open you up – there have been questions, there are moments when they can blow teams away, we have to try and make them not be that good and play on the back foot while keeping an eye on those players they have who can produce a bit of magic and take a game away from you.”

However, he says there are weaknesses within the Arsenal side that Sheffield United will look to exploit as they go in search of just a fifth league win of the campaign, with the Gunners’ 3-0 defeat against Liverpool last week highlighting frailties.

“We will obviously try to, we have seen a few changes in their game, sometimes they go short, but they have also started going a bit long,” he said.

“We have to prepare for both. If we have to press high we have to be ready for that, if they are going to take that option away and go longer than we have to be ready for that.

Mikel Arteta during Arsenal's defeat to Liverpool
Arteta watched his team collapse against Liverpool

“You have to accept that Arsenal are going to get through you, they do that every time – people will always highlight the negatives but they create a lot of chances at the top end of the pitch.”

Arsenal won 2-1 in the Premier League fixture against Sheffield United at the Emirates Stadium in October, and also won in the FA Cup at Bramall Lane last June.

However, the Gunners lost 1-0 against the Blades in the league last season, with Lys Mousset scoring the only goal of the game at Bramall Lane.

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And Heckingbottom is hoping for a similar outcome, although he admits it will be difficult for the beleaguered Blades, who are 15 points from safety in the Premier League with eight games to play.

“We would love a repeat of that performance and result,” he said.

“We know the one thing that is missing is the fans, that atmosphere is electric but as it stands on Sunday we won’t have that but what we can control is our feelings and try and draw on those memories – we are going to prepare the best we can to give that type of performance.”





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