Arsenal will seek to advance through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup on Sunday when they take on Sheffield United in the quarter-final clash at Bramall Lane.
Arsenal will travel to Bramall Lane on Sunday with good heart, having secured a hard-fought 2-0 win over Southampton in midweek. It was their first win since the return of English football as well as the first away win for the club under Mikel Arteta.
However, free from the shackles and pressure of the Premier League, the Gunners could face an entirely different test against Sheffield United, in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. The north Londoners came here courtesy a 2-0 win over Portsmouth in the fifth round, but it remains to be seen whether or not they can maintain their consistency away from home.
Sheffield United, however, are not in the best of form at the moment. The Blades have lacked defensive solidity since their return, failing to win any of their three fixtures. Their most recent debacle came against Manchester United at Old Trafford, when Anthony Martial’s sublime hat-trick helped the Red Devils steamroll Chris Wilder’s men.
But, on the positive side of things, the Sheffield United players won’t have to worry about their recent rough patch in the Premier League, when they take the field for their FA Cup fixture. And given the nature of cup ties, the underdogs always seem to have the upper hand due to their athleticism and discipline.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides as they lock horns in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup this weekend.
Tactics & Team News
Chris Wilder will be boosted by the return of Dean Henderson and John Egan heading into this fixture. The former was ineligible to play against his parent club Manchester United while Egan was serving a suspension.
The key defender should easily slot in at centre-back at the expense of Phil Jagielka. He will form the three-man Sheffield United backline alongside Chris Basham. Unfortunately for the Blades, however, Jack O’Connell is still a doubt due to fitness and might have to miss another encounter. His absence should pave the way for Jack Robinson to retain his place in the side.
Despite the gravity of the fixture, Wilder could shuffle things in midfield, especially following another disappointing showing against Manchester United in midweek. Sander Berge should come into the side, along with Muhamed Besic and Luke Freeman, thus completing an overhaul in the middle of the park.
We could also see a change out wide, with Ben Osborn replacing Enda Stevens at left wing-back while George Baldock is a guaranteed starter on the opposite flank. And finally, in attack, Lys Mousset could make way for Oliver McBurnie, who is set to partner Billy Sharp in what will be Sheffield United’s first line of press.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, Robinson; Baldock, Berge, Besic, Freeman, Osborn; Sharp, McBurnie
David Luiz has once again made the headlines this week by signing a one-year contract extension with Arsenal. The Brazilian surely isn’t favoured by the fans right now, following a disastrous display against Manchester City. But, with Mikel Arteta likely to shuffle his side on Sunday, he might start in defence.
Indeed, Luiz could partner Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding, with the Arsenal boss likely to revert to a three-man backline in order to mirror Sheffield United’s tried and tested 3-5-2. Other options include Sokratis, but the Greek defender might not yet be fully fit to start while Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers have been ruled out for the season.
Arteta will surely have the crucial Premier League game against Norwich City next week in mind, which means key players like Hector Bellerin could be given a breather. Fortunately, the reverted three-man backline should allow Ainsley Maitland-Niles to replace the Spaniard at right wing-back.
On the opposite flank, Arteta does have options, especially after Kieran Tierney was cleared despite picking up a cramp against Southampton. But, the Scot is likely to be rested while Sead Kolasinac simply hasn’t played enough. Hence, we may see Bukayo Saka starting at left wing-back, providing attacking width to the team.
In midfield, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock could get run-outs at the expense of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos. The two youngsters are set to operate in the double-pivot while Lucas Torreira is being reintegrated into training and could soon be available.
Eddie Nketiah was excellent against Southampton and could be rewarded with another start. But, Alexandre Lacazette is also set to return to the side, meaning the youngster may have to operate out wide alongside Reiss Nelson. Elsewhere, there is a chance of Mesut Ozil featuring against Sheffield United this weekend, but only as a substitute.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Martinez; Mustafi, Luiz, Holding; Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Willock, Saka; Nelson, Lacazette, Nketiah
- Sheffield United and Arsenal last faced each other in the FA Cup back in March 2005 in a fifth-round replay; after a goalless draw, the Gunners won 4-2 on penalties at Bramall Lane.
- Arsenal have won just one of their last eight away matches against Sheffield United in all competitions (D4 L3), a 3-0 win in October 2007 in the League Cup.
- Sheffield United last played in an FA Cup quarter-final in 2013-14 as a League One side, winning 2-0 against Charlton Athletic to progress to that season’s semi-final, where they lost 5-3 to Hull City.
- Arsenal have progressed from 13 of their last 15 FA Cup quarter-final matches, losing in this run in 2010-11 against Manchester United and 2015-16 against Watford.
- Sheffield United’s six FA Cup goals this season have been scored by different players (Jack Robinson, Leon Clarke, Muhamed Besic, Oliver Norwood, David McGoldrick, Billy Sharp); they last had more scorers in a season back in 2013-14 (nine).
Player to Watch
As mentioned earlier, Luiz has made a lot of headlines in recent weeks, both on and off the pitch. And after signing a rather shocking one-year contract extension, the onus will be on him to produce the goods and prove his critics wrong. A solid performance against a club like Sheffield United could serve as a real confidence booster.
An empty stadium, albeit an away one, also works in favour of Luiz, who was expected to receive a lot of criticism over his recent performances. But, with Arsenal likely to switch back to a three-man back-line, the Brazilian’s experience and excellent ball-playing quality could come in handy.
Earlier this year, Luiz was seen excelling with his build-up play under Arteta. And he is more than capable of replicate those performances if he gets enough freedom this weekend.
Sheffield United 0-1 Arsenal
Sheffield United have not particularly looked great since the restart. They have lacked a certain amount of discipline, with the midfielders also not performing to their potential.
And with an even more depleted squad due to the rotation, Chris Wilder’s men are destined to struggle against an Arsenal side fresh from a comprehensive display against Southampton in midweek. Hence, we expect a narrow 1-0 win for the Gunners this weekend.