Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Why I'm backing the Blades to get something from Manchester City clash after Arsenal hung on for a point at Emirates
A trip to the capital to play Arsenal used to send shivers down the spine.
Arsenal, or THE Arsenal as they are sometimes referred to, are not just a football club, but an institution. A club with a great proud history and even though the old marble halls and traditional Highbury ground were swopped a few years ago for the superb modern Emirates Stadium, a visit to one of the world’s biggest clubs is a daunting prospect.
Or at least it used to be. The days of George Graham’s title-winning sides built around that seemingly impenetrable defence marshalled by Tony Adams and Steve Bould are long gone. Most fans also now know Ian Wright as a Match of the Day sofa star rather than a goal-scoring football superstar, and the memories of Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ in the mid-noughties - featuring the likes of Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Vierra and Thierry Henry – are fading away.
So yes, it seems strange that despite the hundreds of millions thrown at the Arsenal players in transfer fees and wages in these Premier League times, a visit to play them turned into a just another regulation football match against mid-table opposition. And even though our Bladesmen were nowhere near their brilliant best, they were still more than good enough and fully deserving of another precious Premier League point.
Maybe it was a good time to play Arsenal? Even with a couple of key players out, it could be argued that the new manager would probably have given them a bit of an upturn in performances, but the way we started the game suggested that wasn’t to be the case.
For the first 25 minutes, it was typical Sheffield United front-foot football with virtually one-way traffic towards the Arsenal goal and despite the odd breakaway later in the half, Dean Henderson wasn’t really troubled at all. In truth, Arsenal offered very little and if Lys Mousset has realised he had the time and space to direct two great headed chances on target, we might have taken the lead.
We didn’t though, and a minute before half-time paid the price as we found ourselves going into the break one down.
Maybe the best Arsenal sides of yesteryear might have pushed on in the second half, got a second and third goal and won the game, but as previously mentioned, those teams are history. Perhaps this current Blades team would have been good enough to come back against those teams anyway ( and I rather think they would have been!) but I felt that it was only a matter of time before we got back into the game. Time, together with some perfect substitutions actually.
Callum Robinson, Billy Sharp and Mo Besic entered the fray and all played a part in us gaining the upper hand in the last half-hour. Besic was especially effective and has to be pushing for a start soon after some eye-catching cameos as a sub, and his performance in the cup tie recently.
The introduction of all three subs proved how important it will be in the final few months of the season to have strength in depth all over the squad and as the season takes its toll mentally and physically, we might yet see some strategic changes coming to what we perceive to be our ‘strongest’ starting line-up.
What we do absolutely know is that our manager will invariably make the correct calls, both with his starting line-up and his subs. Because basically, in Chris Wilder we trust. Completely.
The equaliser came of course, and we had the chances to win near the end. Arsenal, THE Arsenal, the ninth richest and the fifth best-supported club in the world, were hanging on for a point at home to the Premier League newcomers, who were in League One three years ago!
It was remarkable. To be honest, this whole season has been remarkable! Remarkable, and about a hundred other superlatives I could throw at it!
Next up it’s Man City, one of the richest and best supported….blah blah blah…
Quite frankly it doesn’t matter who we play anymore. We compete on level terms against every team in every stadium we turn up to because this is a superb Sheffield United football team who can match up with the very best teams out there. We should have beaten City at the Etihad a few weeks ago, and I believe we can beat them at the Lane this week too…and that’s a line I never thought I’d ever write!
It’s quite remarkable I even have! UTB.