Improving Arsenal fail to blunt the Blades

TOP GUNS: Arsenal players celebrate their goal against Sheffield United

ARSENAL CONTINUE to improve under Mike Arteta but Sheffield United’s late equaliser once again demonstrated their inability to see out a match.

John Fleck’s superbly-taken goal, which cancelled out Gabriel Martinelli’s opener, meant that of the six games of Arteta’s nascent tenure, his side have ceded the lead on three occasions.

Nevertheless, any Arsenal frustrations should be tempered by the realisation that this was never a contest under their mastery despite further signs of Arteta implementing a strategy and game plan.

Arsenal supporters will need little reminding that both were lacking when these teams met at Bramall Lane in October and the north Londoners still had Unai Emery at the helm.

United and Chris Wilder can argue with justification that they were good value for a point here, perhaps even more. The Blades once again proved a difficult proposition and here they played with customary conviction, composure, and bore the hallmarks of one of this Premier League season’s best-coached teams.

Wilder continues to coax the best from his squad and they remain four points clear of Arsenal, who are caught up in the division’s mid-table sludge. There was a genuine question before the match whether or not a United win would have represented an upset.

As it was, an experimental Arsenal side broke through the first-half stalemate to forge a lead their play had only occasionally hinted at in the first 43 minutes.

With club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suspended, Martinelli was handed a start and popped up between Enda Stevens and John Egan to plunder the opening goal.

The architects were Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka, with the final ball delivered by Saka. The youngster, again deputising at left-back, delivered a cross that nicked off George Baldock before tantalisingly falling for Martinelli.

In a week where Arsenal began negotiating a deal for Paris St-Germain left-back Layvin Kurzawa, Saka, who is more comfortable playing in a wide attacking role, acquitted himself well.

Ahead of the second half, United emerged early and set about their work with renewed intent, perhaps secure in the knowledge that this Arsenal side will cough up a chance sooner or later.

The visitors fashioned the occasional opening but the equaliser came at the moment Arsenal might have been confident in their ability to hold on.

Callum Robinson looped in a cross that fellow substitute Billy Sharp knocked into the path of Fleck, who drilled the ball into the ground and up beyond the grasp of Leno.

United might have won it late on but, then again, Arsenal had been denied a penalty at 1-0 when the lively Nicolas Pepe was halted by Jack O’Connell.

Mike Dean, in his 500th Premier League match as a referee, waved away the Frenchman’s claims and his judgement was upheld by the VAR, who agreed that Pepe was already falling and that no foul had been committed. It fell into the category of ‘you’ve seen them given’.

With no further goals it proved to be honours even in north London.

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