Record 13-time FA Cup winners Arsenal make the trip to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United this afternoon knowing elimination from this competition at the quarter-final stage places a huge dampener on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal reign so far.
Arsenal Head to Sheffield United in FA Cup
The Spaniard was starting to earn plaudits for how he got an Arsenal side that looked completely lacklustre under predecessor Unai Emery playing with confidence before lockdown. Yet, the unexpected hiatus has not been kind to the Gunners, with Arteta’s men losing two of their first three fixtures since returning to action.
They face a Sheffield United side whose high-flying form before the break looks to have been stopped in its tracks. Chris Wilder’s side have ended up on the wrong side of consecutive 3-0 defeats away to Newcastle United and Manchester United in the league.
Arsenal’s Away Woes
Arsenal are all too familiar with Bramall Lane’s typically electric atmosphere as they were a regular bogey-side for Arsene Wenger in the early noughties. Emery’s Arsenal succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the ground as recently as this season. However, Arteta may take some comfort from the fact that with no fans in the ground, his players will not have the ‘intimidation’ obstacle. A cauldron of noise at its best, the home of the Blades can be a tough place to go for even the most seasoned veterans. With the Arsenal boss looking to blood some young talent, he’ll be hoping they can use the lack of home advantage to their benefit.
Whilst both opponents have displayed jittery league form since its return, their avenues to get to this stage of the competition have been relatively straight forward. Sheffield United brushed past AFC Fylde in the third round, before two away wins at Milwall and Reading put them in the hat for the last eight.
Rifts in the Dressing Room
The visitors will be hoping talk after the game is solely about the performance after much of the pre-match discourse has been surrounded by the future of young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi. Whilst his talent can’t be called into question, rumours over an alleged attitude problem and regular disputes with coaching staff are rife. French outlet L’Equipe were the first to report that the 21-year-old was the subject of interest from both Barcelona and former side Paris Saint-Germain. Having been left out of Thursday’s 2-0 league win over Southampton, another omission for Guendouzi would ramp the rumour mill into overdrive.
When asked about the players future, Arsenal boss Arteta issued a rather stern warning to everyone at the club: “All the players that are here, I am counting on them. If they want to jump on the boat, they are more than welcome.”
The hosts look to be boosted by the return of central defender Jack O’Connell. The Blades centre-back has missed all three of his sides games since the restart after sustaining an injury in training.
Loanee shot-stopper Dean Henderson will be back in the sticks for Sheffield United after he was forced to sit out the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday as it was against his parent club.
Arsenal’s teenage sensation Gabriel Martinelli will not be available for the rest of the season after he picked up a knee injury in training.
David Luiz could feature for the first time since the divisive Brazilian extended his Arsenal contract for a further one year. His two-game suspension is up after he saw red in the Gunners 3-0 defeat at Manchester City.
Seven months after signing, the clash could be a chance for Portuguese right-back Cedric Soares to make his Arsenal debut after he has recovered from a facial injury.