In Tennyson’s stirring poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ six hundred British cavalrymen charge the Turkish lines with their sabres drawn.
There’s just one problem, the Turks have cannons.
As Tennsyon puts it:
“Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.”
Yesterday the Blades of Sheffield United showed some steel against the Gunners of Arsenal, but in the end they were no match for a few volleys of grape and roundshot.
Obviously I am not comparing the Crimean War with the Premier League (the Premier League is much more important), but you know how I like a military analogy.
The Sheffielders earned much respect last season. They were in the top six for long spells and ended up finishing only one place and two points behind your favourite boys in red and white. Home and away we managed only one point against them.
So, despite a poor start to this campaign, it was obvious they were going to be no pushover.
Action Man made changes both from the team that knocked Liverpool out of the Reindeer Cup and from the one that faced them in the league last Monday.
Luiz was recalled to central defence alongside Gabriel, with Bellerin and Tierney as fullbacks. Elneny (in ahead of Xhaka) and Ceballos took the central midfield positions, Saka wide mid and a front three of Willian, Nketieh and Aubameyang.
The first half was tight with very few chances. The best ones were created by Arsenal (an Aubameyang ball into the box for Nketieh that the young striker couldn’t control, some decent moves down the left flank with no end product, an Auba shot tipped over by Sheffield’s ‘keeper).
United’s best chance came early on when a daydreaming Luiz was slow to react to a pass across the back from Gabriel. Some Sheffield Burke closed him down and won the ball and was bearing down on goal only for Leno – showing brilliant anticipation – to save the Brazilian’s bacon.
Luiz, as is his wont, compounded his initial error by tugging his opponent’s shirt. For some reason VAR chose to ignore the tug, but eight out of 10 times that would have been a red card for Luiz. I’ll always love him for his heroics in our run to lift the FA Cup, but you can never feel fully secure when he’s at the back.
Arsenal dominated possession in the first half and created whatever chances were going, so naturally the rubbish commentary team on Sky concluded that Sheffield had had the better of it.
The second half started with Sheffield having more possession and occasionally threatening us so, after 10 minutes, El Patron made his first change, Nketieh coming off for Pepe. The Ivorian had an immediate impact, troubling Sheffield with his direct running and quick passing.
The breakthrough came in the 61st minute when a fast-passing move involving Willian, Pepe and Elneny ended with Bellerin floating a perfect cross over the six yard box for Saka to head in with precision. I had never thought about Saka’s heading ability before, but if that goal is anything to go by it’s yet another string to his very impressive bow.
Three minutes later the continually dangerous Pepe cut in from the right wing and fired a deliciously placed low shot into the far corner for two-nil.
For the next 20 minutes we controlled things like a boss, passing the ball around the back and barely giving the Sheffield players a touch. However, I did start to worry we were getting a bit too cavalier (and we’ve already seen what happens to cavalrymen, haven’t we?). We started pushing for a third and I noticed some of our players becoming more lackadaisical about hurrying back when our moves broke down.
We paid the price on 84 minutes when Eddie McGoldrick, who’s not looking anything like his 55 years, cut in from Sheffield’s right side and curled a shot just inside of Leno’s right post, giving the German no chance.
The final six minutes (plus four added) were a bit nervy, with plenty of Sheffield balls into our box. The defence stood up well and when the whistle blew you’d have to be an idiot (or a Sky pundit) to deny that we deserved all three points.
In a weekend of strange and surprising results this could prove to be an important win for the Arsenal.
Aside from one questionable decision to punch in his six yard box when catching might have been better, Leno was good, albeit with little to do. His most significant moment was early on, coming way off his line to spare Luiz’s blushes.
Hector has been good in recent outings and had two assists today. If he’s getting back to his best it could have a big bearing on our season.
Very good outing. Looks like a quality player.
He had a wobbly first 15 minutes (and was lucky not to be red carded) but improved steadily thereafter and made some good defensive contributions including one diving headed clearance in our penalty area.
Defensively sound and got some good balls into the box without finding anyone on the end of them.
I’m one of those odd people who has always quite liked the Ninny. Mostly I like his economy on the ball – he seldom loses possession. The down side is that he doesn’t make too many progressive passes, but today his late run into the box and first time pass helped lead to our first goal.
Ceballos 8 MoTM
A very good performance from Dani – kept everything moving in midfield, showed great composure when under pressure, defended well and pushed us forward when necessary.
Took his goal really well and was industrious all game long. So much quality for one so young.
A few good moments and definitely looked better when Nketieh went off and he moved a bit more central, but I think we can expect more from him.
Had one good chance early on but couldn’t control an over-the-top ball from Aubameyang. Apart from that he had few opportunities to make an impact but put in a hard-working shift.
Came close with an excellent shot and was a constant threat down our left side. His mere presence means other players get more space in the final third because defenders are so nervous about what he can do.
Came on and changed the game. Terrific goal which turned out to be our winner. Even did some good defending late on.
One fumbled attempt at a chest-down in the box almost cost us, but he was OK.