Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder rounds on his team's critics ahead of their crunch clash with Arsenal

Sheffield United’s players care about the club’s slow start to the season, manager Chris Wilder has insisted, dismissing suggestions that his squad has become “too comfortable” at Premier League level.

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 6:42 pm

After defeats by Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Leeds, United travel to Arsenal on Sunday searching for their first point and goal of the new top-flight campaign - although David McGoldrick did find the back of the during a Carabao Cup tie at Burnley a fortnight ago.

Having finished ninth in the table last term, less than a year after being promoted from the Championship, Wilder told The Star that United’s squad is hurt by its results of late. But he refuted suggestions they can be attributed to the fact some of those under his command have lost their competitive edge - describing those claims as “complete and utter nonsense.”

“I want players who care and I’ve got players who care,” Wilder, a lifelong United supporter, said. “For long periods here, before we all came in, I think we can remember times and performances when the players probably didn’t (care). Trust me, these boys do. Anyone who says or thinks otherwise is talking complete and utter nonsense.”

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“If people see George Baldock out having a skinny latte at Costa and he’s smiling,” Wilder continued, “That doesn’t mean he’s not bothered, because he is. People have to be able to get on with their lives and have a life away from here. The difference is, I see these boys all the time and so I know what they’re about, what they think and how much they care.

“People talk about rewards in football and that sometimes footballers have got it too comfortable - well, this isn’t enjoyable and it isn’t enjoyable for anybody. But I want that to be the case because it means we’ve got lads who care.”

Despite losing three league games in a row - six if last season’s fixtures are also included - Wilder has decided against making wholesale changes at the Emirates Stadium; where United drew 1-1 nine months ago. John Egan, who missed the derby against Leeds through suspension, is expected to return although Ethan Apmadu, signed on loan from Chelsea, could retain his place elsewhere in the starting eleven after impressing in the Republic of Ireland international’s absence.

United were languishing in the third tier of English football when Wilder was appointed in the summer of 2016, and six of those crowned League One champions during his first season at the helm remain at the club now.

George Baldock shows his frustration: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“These lads have had to fight all the way through,” Wilder said. “And they’re continuing to fight, whether they be young lads wanting to establish themselves as Premier League footballers or someone like Jags (Phil Jagielka) who has had a brilliant career but is still fighting now. You don’t get in the position these lads are in without being prepared to fight.

“Trust me, my message to the lads isn’t ‘chill out, relax and let’s carry on like this.’ Everybody wants more, that’s in our make-up.

“I think anyone who has watched the mentality of this group over a three or four year period knows it is really strong.”

After careful consideration of United’s performances in recent weeks, Wilder will continue to persevere with his preferred 3-5-2 system in north London - deciding that carelessness and bad luck, particularly when it comes to refereeing decisions, are responsible for their difficulties of late rather than any systemic faults.

Sheffield United's English manager Chris Wilder (L) and Arsenal's Spanish head coach Mikel Arteta: OLI SCARFF/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“We had a couple of nights out on the back of some great results last season, and I’m looking forward to that again, we’re starved of it, we’re looking forward to that glow,” Wilder said. “We can take comfort from those performances even when we’ve lost, though. I don’t think even the most critical of Sheffield United supporters can say the performances were rubbish.

“We’ve been hurt by injuries and some people need just to raise themselves a bit more. But we’ve also been hurt by some poor decisions, in my opinion.”

“I scrutinize everything,” he added. “We have covered everything and have tried to cover everything. The thing that will get pointed at us is that we’ve become comfortable. That isn’t the case.

“We haven’t taken our foot off the gas. If we had, I’d be saying it. The attitude is great and as strong as it’s been during my time at the football club.”

United’s preparations for the meeting with Arsenal have taken place against a backdrop of activity in the transfer market. Rhian Brewster, the Liverpool centre-forward, is poised to be officially unveiled after agreeing a move to South Yorkshire while Huddersfield Town defender Terence Kongolo could also follow shortly. Kongolo, who has been capped four times by Holland, is viewed as a potential replacement for Jack O’Connell - who recently underwent surgery to cure a knee complaint.

Arsenal will recall striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang after resting him for their recent Carabao Cup tie against Liverpool but Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi, Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli are among those unavailable to Wilder’s opposite number Mikel Arteta.

“Out of possession, they have really improved,” Wilder said, reflecting upon the Basque’s impact since taking charge in December. “But you would expect him to do that, you would expect any manager who knows what they’re doing to do that. I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all, it’s just the way it is. Mikel has brought more of a structure to them but, like I say, it’s hardly surprising that he’s done that.

“For me, the big area where they have got better is in terms of their collective spirit. Like us, you can see they are a really together group.”

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