Arsenal put their four-game winless run to bed with a comfortable 3-0 win over bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday evening.
Two goals from Alexandre Lacazette and a first goal in more than a year from Brazilian starlet Gabriel Martinelli sealed all three points for the Gunners, ensuring that they will head into Thursday’s UEFA Europa League quarter-final second-leg against Slavia Prague in confident mood.
In truth, it was a dominant performance from the Gunners and one that richly deserved all three points, as they were rarely troubled by the managerless Blades, who have won just four times in the league this season.
Whilst Arsenal were always likely to emerge from this one with all three points in the bag, the performance impressed boss Mikel Arteta, who had seen his side fall to a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Liverpool just over a week earlier.
The Spaniard said: “I think we had a really strong performance. A clean sheet which was needed after a long run without it.
“They were very efficient, intelligent and composed with the ball which I’m really pleased with. We showed great cohesion, understanding and it was the right attitude so I’m very happy.”
The win over the Blades was probably all the more satisfying for Arteta because he was inundated with injury and illness issues ahead of kick-off, with the likes of Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all missing out.
Whilst Arteta was able to call upon the likes of Lacazette and Martinelli to assist in the attacking ranks, the Spaniard had to make a brave call when it came to deciding on who would operate at left-back in Tierney’s absence. Arteta opted to hand the responsibility to Granit Xhaka and the Swiss international certainly didn’t look out of place in unfamiliar territory.
Whilst he did not offer the same level of attacking output that Tierney usually does from the left-sided full-back role, the former Arsenal captain did not look disjointed in a defensive sense.
As well as slotting in at left-back, Xhaka also showed a strong level of leadership and support for his team-mates, especially when it came to the Gunners’ goal celebrations. Taking part in the Gunners’ Open Mic feature, Xhaka was recorded throughout the match to see if he said anything of note.
After Lacazette had opened the scoring, finishing off a lovely passing move, and Martinelli had doubled the Gunners’ advantage with a tap-in, the former Lyon man added his second goal of the game when latching onto Thomas Partey’s outstanding through-ball to slot a low effort beyond Aaron Ramsdale in the United goal.
Before racing up the pitch to celebrate with Lacazette, Xhaka made it his mission to speak to Partey and acknowledge his pass for setting up the goal.
Xhaka was heard saying: “Great pass!,” confirming his seal of approval for the wonderfully weighted pass that his teammate had just delivered.
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In truth, Xhaka was bang on the money; it was a fantastic ball and one that you would not necessarily have expected from a deep-lying midfielder.
On Xhaka’s performance at left-back, Gunners chief Arteta said: “He had a specific role today for the game because we believed they were going to try to do something.
“He had the right qualities to develop that role. He did that really good. It’s a joy to work with him because you ask him to play as a centre-forward and his first reaction is ‘yeah, yeah I’ll do my best’.
“I think today he had a really strong performance and with Kieran probably out for the season it gives us another option.”