A cold Monday night up in Sheffield, under the lights and a feisty atmosphere at Bramall Lane – the warning signs were there for all Arsenal fans to see.
It brought back harsh memories of their loss at Bramall Lane 13 years ago – by the exact same scoreline – as the then newly-promoted Blades survived over half an hour with Phil Jagielka in goal at the end with the Gunners struggling to match their opponents’ intensity.
Here, Sportsmail has taken a look at the similar frailties the Gunners are suffering 13 years on from their horror show in Sheffield…
Arsenal were defeated 1-0 by Sheffield United on Monday night in the Premier League
Arsenal suffered the same scoreline back in December 2006, with Christian Nade scoring
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Arsene Wenger in Premier League
Last 47 games
Goals scored: 90
Goals conceded: 59
Clean sheets: 17
Unai Emery in Premier League
First 47 games
Goals scored: 86
Goals conceded: 63
Clean sheets: 10
When Patrick Vieira departed for Juventus in the summer of 2005, gone were the days of real leaders in north London, something the club haven’t truly been able to recover from. Before that, there was Tony Adams – ‘Mr Arsenal’.
Arsene Wenger’s downfall at Arsenal was largely down to a lack of leaders to inspire his team when the going got tough. While the Gunners had some key players missing in December 2006 through injury and illness, he couldn’t count on anyone to stand up in the face of the Blades’ physicality and intensity.
Wenger’s starting XI 13 years ago came as much delight to Neil Warnock and his men, with Arsenal naming a mismatched team, including the likes of Justin Hoyte and Philippe Senderos in the defence.
As the Gunners fell to a shock 1-0 defeat thanks to Christian Nade’s first-half strike, they had a lack of real authority and winning experience – with the exception of Jens Lehmann, Gilberto Silva and Kolo Toure – who could take the game by the scruff of the neck while the Blades fans roared their team onto victory on a freezing night up in Yorkshire.
Granit Xhaka’s leadership potential for the Gunners has come under plenty of scrutiny
Fast forward to October 21, 2019, and the leadership problem has arguably got even worse for the Emirates outfit. Unai Emery certainly hasn’t helped himself with his peculiar idea of five captains.
But when it was officially announced that Granit Xhaka would be Emery’s permanent skipper (after consulting the players) following Laurent Koscielny’s departure in the summer, that was met by even more murmurs.
There are huge question marks over Xhaka’s leadership potential, with many supporters slamming his rashness and decision-making in the heart of midfield. While he can’t be trusted in a footballing capacity, he will always fight a losing game on the captain front.
But who else can take the armband in this team? There were calls for the likes of Hector Bellerin – who has been at the club since 2011 – to be made skipper. But with him still being the tender age of 24, this in turn highlights the problem. Gone are the days Arsenal can rely on the experienced individuals in their team.
Arsenal’s team lacked experience back in December 2006, with Justin Hoyte starting
Arsenal’s Premier League title-winning era was hugely down to the backbone of the team. With the likes of Thierry Henry, Vieira, Toure and Sol Campbell at his disposal, Wenger knew he could get the better of teams. But over time, that disappeared with Europe’s biggest clubs coming in for the Gunners’ world class players.
Despite the ordeal of having to overcome the loss of his star players, Arsenal’s long-serving manager stuck to his guns and maintained his attacking philosophy, which brought him plenty of success down the years.
But while he relied on his attack to deliver the goods, Arsenal started to falter elsewhere – in defence.
After the days of Campbell and Toure leading the backline had gone, Arsenal have suffered ever since, despite bright partnerships at times between the likes of Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
Sokratis and David Luiz continue to leave the Premier League outfit vulnerable at the back
And perhaps Arsenal’s latest centre-back partnership is the worst one of all. Since the Premier League begun this season, there have been huge concerns over Sokratis and Luiz, who are getting no younger.
The fact they are being told to play out from the back exaggerates Arsenal’s problems – but the main issue is their lack of defensive discipline, alongside questionable full-backs. With every passing attack from the opposition, there are fears among the fanbase that a goal is coming.
Wenger stepped down over major concerns that Arsenal were falling backwards – largely down to a dodgy defence – but under Emery, there doesn’t seem to have been any improvement.
Arsenal have already conceded 12 goals in nine Premier League matches this season, while conceding a massive 51 last campaign as they missed out once again on Champions League football. The return of Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Bellerin can’t come soon enough.
Philippe Senderos started for the Gunners at Bramall Lane on the cold December night
While Arsenal’s defence is rightly coming in for criticism, their weak midfield can’t shy away from any backlash.
The departure of Vieira to Juventus 14 years ago, still haunts Arsenal to this day – never replacing a lung-busting box-to-box midfielder who had the leadership and skill to match. While the Frenchman was a one-off, the Gunners haven’t even got close to finding someone in that calibre.
The north London side have been crying out for a Vieira replacement ever since 2005 and the loss of Gilberto Silva three years later, made matters more urgent.
Arsenal fans quietly thought they got their wish with the signing of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria last summer – who quickly became a fan favourite for his tenacious displays at the base of midfield during the first half of last season. But, for some unknown reason, he has fallen out of favour under Emery.
Matteo Guendouzi has been a standout for Arsenal but he isn’t the man to protect the backline
Xhaka has once again taken on the burden of protecting the defence, alongside Matteo Guendouzi. But the pair, to put it bluntly, are not holding midfielders – especially the latter.
Xhaka lacks the defensive discipline needed to protect the backline, while Guendouzi, who has arguably been Arsenal’s best player this season alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – hasn’t been developed as a sitting midfielder.
So until Arsenal finally ensure proper protection for their backline, problems will continue to arise in defence.
The pressure is starting to mount on Emery and if he can’t secure a top-four Premier League finish come the end of the season, it could perhaps be the end for the Spaniard.
Arsene Wenger had been crying out for a defensive midfielder after Patrick Vieira departed
The north London outfit don’t seem to have improved defensively under Unai Emery
Original article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-7599773/Arsenals-dismal-showing-Sheffield-United-brought-memories-Bramall-Lane-13-years-ago.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490