This was a tale of two chances, both falling the way of unmarked forwards just yards from goal.
The first was somehow scuffed wide when it was easier to score. The guilty party? Arsenal’s club-record signing Nicolas Pepe. He cost £72million, do not forget.
Lys Mousset, by contrast, was a Bournemouth misfit before his £10m move to Bramall Lane this summer. He, however, showed Pepe how it should be done when presented with such an opportunity in the goalmouth.
Lys Mousset taps Sheffield United ahead after half-an-hour after latching onto Jack O’Connell’s headed flick on
Mousset is mobbed by his Sheffield United team-mates after they took a first-half lead in Monday’s game at Bramall Lane
Mousset receives a hug from Blades boss Chris Wilder after scoring his second goal for the club since his summer move
Calum Chambers, David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos look dejected after conceding the only goal of the game
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Henderson 7; Basham 6.5, Egan 7, O’Connell 7; Baldock 6.5, Norwood 7 (McBurnie 85), Lundstram 7, Fleck 7, Stevens 7.5; Mousset 7 (Sharp 55, 6.5), McGoldrick 7 (Freeman 78, 5)
Subs not used: Robinson, Jagielka, Moore, Besic
Goalscorers: Mousset 30
Booked: O’Connell, Fleck, McGoldrick, Henderson
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Leno 5.5; Chambers 5.5, Sokratis 5, Luiz 5, Kolasinac 6; Xhaka 6 (Lacazette 69, 6), Guendouzi 6; Willock 5 (Ceballos 46, 6), Pepe 5 (Martinelli 78, 5), Saka 5; Aubameyang 5
Subs not used: Martinez, Tierney, Torreira, Holding
Booked: Saka, Kolasinac, Sokratis
Referee: Mike Dean 7
Man of the Match: Enda Stevens
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Mousset’s first-half goal on his first start for the Blades proved enough to secure the win that lifts them to ninth, and how Chris Wilder’s side deserve that ascent.
They were brilliant here. Sometimes it looks chaotic – shifting formations and centre-backs overlapping on the wing – but in the mind of Wilder it all makes perfect sense. For a boss who is fast proving himself worthy of his seat in the top tier, there is definite method behind the apparent madness.
With Arsenal, there is just madness. Madness that they look like the same team as last season, and the one before that, too.
Indeed, it is Arsene Wenger’s 70th birthday on Tuesday and this was a fitting tribute performance – the type of which forced him to stand down last year.
The result means Arsenal have not won away from home since the opening day of the season at Newcastle and, while victory here would have taken them third, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that these are worrying times for the Gunners under Unai Emery.
Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka tries to get away from Sheffield United’s Chris Basham during the early stages
Referee Mike Dean and goalkeeper Dean Henderson check on Sheffield United defender Enda Stevens
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang receives treatment as he lies on the pitch but is able to continue
Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi gives chase as Sheffield United’s John Fleck gets his foot on the ball
They have just two clean sheets in 24 away from the Emirates and should have shipped more than one against a home side who were superior from the off.
There is real identity to Wilder’s team and a collective spirit which Arsenal would do well to observe. It would, though, be unfair to put this win down to graft alone, for there is craft in this side too.
The same could not be said of Arsenal. Perhaps that is why the calls for Mesut Ozil’s return will grow louder in the coming days.
Ozil was left out of the Arsenal squad for the fifth time this season, not that the news came as a shock. This was the first game since Ozil broke his silence and revealed last week that he intends to see out the remaining two years of his £350,000-per-week contract. Emery, it would appear, does not endorse such declarations.
He does not want Ozil near his team and an eight-match unbeaten run prior to this had served to quieten those who bemoan the playmaker’s absence.
Not that Emery has been vindicated yet, for the jury remains very much out on the Spaniard. A 22-match unbeaten run last season, remember, ultimately yielded no trophies and Europa League football.
Nicolas Pepe misses the ball when presented with the opportunity to tap Arsenal ahead from just six yards out
Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka is sent flying as he collides with Sheffield Untied defender John Egan in the first half
The youngster is nonplussed as he is shown a yellow card by referee Mike Dean for simulation inside the penalty area
Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson makes a flying save high to his left to deny Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka
And supporters were hardly celebrating his selection here. After an opening 20 minutes during which Arsenal were out of tune on the pitch, the away following turned to song off it. It was the benched Dani Ceballos for whom they longed, and it was easy to understand why.
It was always likely that Arsenal’s best chance of scoring was going to be on the break – given the attacking territory enjoyed by the hosts – and they should have taken what would have been an ill-deserved lead on 21 minutes.
Pepe started the counter with quick feet deep in his own half but finished it with clown feet inside the six-yard area, contriving to connect with his heel from Sead Kolasinac’s inviting centre when all that was needed was a simple tap-in.
And that is exactly what Mousset did for his winner on the half hour. Ollie Norwood loaded a corner to the far post and, when Jack O’Connell headed back across goal, the striker was lurking to turn home. Quite why he was afforded the freedom of the goalmouth was mystifying. Then again, with David Luiz in central defence perhaps it was not so mysterious after all.
Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi hovers over David McGoldrick as referee Mike Dean waves the yellow card
Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno leaps to grab the ball in front of him at full stretch as David McGoldrick lingers nearby
But the lead was everything Wilder’s team had deserved after a first half full of energy and enthusiasm, and no little skill. Compare that to a lethargic Arsenal.
So desperate had they become that Bukayo Saka attempted to con the officials when flopping to the turf inside the area under a challenge from John Egan and was duly booked.
Also yellow carded in the ensuing debate while VAR checked the incident was Arsenal coach Freddie Ljungberg. The Swede, however, had shown more fight during his touchline protest than many in yellow.
Emery responded by listening to the visiting fans and on came Ceballos for the ineffective Joe Willock at half-time.
Arsenal, though, had not won a Premier League away game when losing at the interval in eight years and they never looked like bringing closure to that 38-match run here.
The sight of a sullen Pepe being withdrawn late on just about summed up their sorry night.