Sheffield United have issues at the front, the back and with the man in the middle after losing to Arsenal
Chris Wilder has a theory about football - believing matches are settled by what happens in “both boxes” rather than other areas of the pitch.
The Sheffield United manager has a point, with a lapse in concentration at one and lack of real cutting edge at the other contributing to his team’s defeat by an Arsenal side which saw Bukayo Saka and substitute Nicolas Pepe convert two quick-fire chances after the interval.
But Wilder might want to revise his hypothesis, having seen referee Lee Mason grant Mikel Arteta’s men a huge helping hand at the beginning of this contest following an incident which took place just outside the hosts’ penalty area.
Barely four minutes into a game David McGoldrick later left balancing on a knife edge when he scored United’s first Premier League goal of the season, Mason failed to intervene when Oliver Burke had his shirt tugged by David Luiz as he bore down on Bernd Leno.
It was a clear foul and one which, providing the Arsenal goalkeeper with enough time to clear as Burke’s progress was impeded, should have resulted in Luiz being shown a red card. But with the Brazilian remaining on the pitch, Arsenal went on to win thanks to second-half efforts from Saka and Pepe, although McGoldrick reduced the deficit with a curling shot during the closing stages before going close again at the death.
The result leaves United still searching for their first point of the new season. But with club record signing from Liverpool, Rhian Brewster set to make his debut following the international break, Wilder will hope that is not too far away.
Despite posing little threat themselves until McGoldrick pounced from distance, United were disciplined and focused enough to limit opponents with a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal to previous few chances before Saka eventually forced the breakthrough.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who had earlier been denied by Aaron Ramsdale, was involved in the move which saw Hector Bellerin find the teenager in space at the far post. A little too much space for United’s liking as their failure to mark him more tightly undid over an hour’s worth of good work.
Pepe stretched Arsenal’s lead with a perfectly placed low finish beyond Ramsdale but their hopes of enjoying a relaxing end to the contest were dashed when McGoldrick left Leno grasping at thin air. The Republic of Ireland international then saw an attempt deflected wide as United pressed for an equaliser and Wilder the answer as to why Luiz had not been dismissed after a couple of minutes.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Tierney, Gabriel, Saka (Maitland-Niles 88), Ceballos (Xhaka 81), Willian, Aubameyang, Luiz, Elneny, Nketiah (Pepe 56). Not used: Runarsson, Lacazette, Holding, Willock.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Stevens, Baldock, Berge, Osborn (Fleck 63), Lundstram, Burke (McBurnie 56), McGoldrick. Not used: Foderingham, Sharp, Lowe, Norwood, Ampadu.
Referee: Lee Mason (Greater Manchester).