Four devastating minutes of attacking flair ended Sheffield United’s gritty resistance and provided more tangible proof that Arsenal are back.
This was far from convincing, far from pretty. But following their first defeat of the season at champions Liverpool on Monday, the Gunners have returned to winning ways.
That is all that will matter to Mikel Arteta. Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe provided the telling blows as Arsenal withstood a brave Sheffield United fightback to clinch victory.
Nicholas Pepe’s placed effort saw Arsenal double their lead at the Emirates and see out a 2-1 victory against Sheffield United
The Ivorian was mobbed by his team-mates after his goal and immediate impact in the fixture
Pepe had only entered the action moments earlier, and was given a thorough set of instructions by Mikel Arteta
David McGoldrick scored a late consolation with a sublime curled effort, but it wasn’t enough to spur his side into an equaliser
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
ARSENAL (3-4-2-1): Leno 6; Luiz 6.5, Gabriel 7.5, Tierney 6.5; Bellerin 7.5, Ceballos 6.5 (Xhaka 81), Elneny 7, Saka 7 (Maitland-Niles 87); Willian 6.5, Aubameyang 6.5; Nketiah 6 (Pepe 58, 8).
Subs: Runarsson, Lacazette, Holding, Willock.
Manager: Mikel Arteta: 7
SHEFFIELD UTD (3-5-2): Ramsdale 6.5; Basham 6 (Sharp 76), Egan 6.5, Robinson 6.5; Baldock 6.5, Lundstrom 6.5, Berge 7, Osborn 6 (Fleck 63, 6), Stevens 6.5; Burke 7 (McBurnie 56, 5.5), McGoldrick 7. Subs: Foderingham, Lowe, Norwood, Ampadu.
Manager: Chris Wilder: 6.5
Referee: Lee Mason 5
Chris Wilder should be proud of his men, Arsenal were clinging on for dear life by the end.
The Blades will be aggrieved that referee Lee Mason didn’t red card David Luiz in the fifth minute as he appeared to pull back Oliver Burke, who was about to dart through on goal.
That wasn’t Arsenal or Arteta’s concern, though. Once upon time, not too long ago, Arsenal would have caved at the end of this clash.
But under Arteta, the Gunners are made of sterner stuff – this win indicative of their growing backbone.
The first-half, much like the weather, was nothing to write home about. No lack of endeavour, but a distinct lack of goalmouth entertainment.
The closest either side went to opening the scoring was when Aaron Ramsdale, following his initial mistake, tipped over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s wicked long-range effort that looked destined to dip underneath the bar towards.
As you’d expect, the Blades were organised and gutsy – suffocating Arsenal’s creative talent of any time to think.
On another day they may have had a man advantage when Luiz got away with grasping a handful of Oliver Burke’s shirt as the Arsenal defender tried to cover his defensive team-mate Gabriel’s sloppy pass back.
Chris Wilder’s booming protests filled the Emirates; Burke was determined to have his say too, but referee Mason was undeterred.
Burke was proving a thorn in Arsenal’s defence, his robust and direct running a lingering threat.
But Arteta would have hoped for more from his side in an attacking sense. They had bundles of possession, 73 percent by the end of the first half.
However, Aubameyang’s dipping effort and a tame Eddie Nketiah header was all Arsenal had to show for it.
Arteta’s heart started beating significantly quicker just before the break as striker Aubameyang received lengthy treatment following a clattering challenge from Sande Berge, that earned the United midfielder a deserved booking.
The second period continued in a similar fashion; Arsenal probed without joy. Aubmeyang was inches from getting a toe on Dani Ceballos’ intelligent first-time pass in the 53rd minute as Arsenal searched for an opening.
Youngster Bukayo Saka had opened the scoring with a deft, placed header following a slick passage of play
Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had gone close after cutting inside and curling one of his trademark attempts
Arteta introduced record signing Nicolas Pepe in place of the quiet Nketiah just before the hour mark in hope of igniting an attack that had so far looked pedestrian at best.
The substitution proved the key moment as the Ivorian inspired his stuttering team to victory.
Pepe had a sizeable hand in the opener during an incisive move that concluded with Saka nodding home at the back post from Hector Bellerin’s stood up cross to hand Arsenal a 61st minute lead.
It was the perfect way for Gunners youngster to celebrate his first senior England call-up; he’ll walk into St George’s Park on Monday floating on air.
But it was Pepe who was emerging as Arsenal’s hero of the hour here.
Blades defender Enda Stevens tried his best to keep pace with Pepe as the forward collected Bellerin’s pass not far from the half-way line.
Pepe powered forward leaving Stevens trailing in his wake before cooly stroking a left-foot foot finish past Ramsdale to score the decisive goal for Arteta’s side.
A quite brilliant solo effort; Arteta’s shriek of delighted said it all.
The Arsenal boss’ impact on this game from the bench was telling too – his impressive start to life as a manager continues.
The striker was left ruing the missed opportunity after thinking he had given the Gunners first blood in the contest
In the early stages David Luiz was lucky to remain on the field after appearing to pull back Oliver Burke as the last man
A memorial to Metropolitian Police Sergeant Matt Ratana was placed inside the Emirates stadium before kick-off
Coronavirus warnings seen in place inside the Emirates tunnel, warning players and staff to maintain social distancing
Sky Sports microphones were seen covered at pitch-side due to the poor weather conditions in north London
That should have been the signal for Arsenal to canter home – but Wilder’s dogged side had other ideas.
Arsenal looked like they had the situation under control when David McGoldrick had the ball at his feet around 20 yards out.
But the Gunners hadn’t banked on the United forward executing a brilliant curled effort that arced beyond Bernd Leno’s dive.
Buoyed by their first Premier League goal of the season Wilder’s men threw it all at Arsenal – an injury time McGoldrick shot cannoning off Gabriel – who was immense – for a late corner.
The defeat gallant – but a loss is a loss; Wilder will require remainder of that fact. Four defeats from four will only enhance concerns of how this season might transpire for a team that took the Premier League by storm last term.
But it’s onwards an upwards for Arteta’s Arsenal.