LONDON • Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka celebrated his first England call-up by putting the Gunners on course for a 2-1 win against Sheffield United yesterday.
Saka was included in Gareth Southgate’s squad earlier this week for upcoming internationals against Wales, Belgium and Denmark. But it was his club manager he rewarded immediately, with the promising 19-year-old giving Arsenal the lead with his first goal at the Emirates Stadium.
Nicolas Pepe came off the bench to add Arsenal’s second as Mikel Arteta’s team struck twice in four minutes in the second half.
David McGoldrick got United’s first league goal of the term in the closing stages, but it was too late.
Arsenal were not at their best, but Arteta will be encouraged by the way they kept their focus and eventually found a way to secure their third Premier League win in four matches this season.
It was the kind of game that has tripped up Arsenal in recent years and the victory underlined their progress since Arteta took charge in December.
The FA Cup holders are unbeaten at home since February and no longer look a soft touch, raising hopes of a sustained challenge for a top four finish.
Chris Wilder’s Blades have lost all four league games this season, leaving them in the relegation zone just weeks after the conclusion of their impressive first season back in the top flight.
Wilder, without new club-record signing Rhian Brewster yesterday, must have feared more misfortune would befall his side when David Luiz escaped without a red card when the Arsenal defender pulled back Oliver Burke as he sprinted clear in the opening minutes.
That was a rare moment of drama in a tepid opening and for the first time in a Premier League match since last December, the first 28 minutes passed without a single shot from either team.
Arteta has made no secret of his admiration for Wilder’s tactics and has been sending out Arsenal in a similar fashion since taking charge.
VERSATILITY IS KEY
What I liked is we adapted to a very different scenario.We had the right patience.
MIKEL ARTETA, Arsenal manager on his Gunners side grinding out the 2-1 victory over Sheffield United despite not being at their customary free-flowing best.
The Spaniard’s tactics ultimately proved superior, but it was not until Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s curling long-range strike that forced a tip-over from Aaron Ramsdale that Arsenal sparked into life.
Arteta’s side finally broke the deadlock in the 61st minute. Mohamed Elneny and Aubameyang combined to tee up Hector Bellerin and his cross to the far post found Saka, who headed home.
“All the things that have happened to me – I feel blessed. I’m a happy man,” said the winger.
“I don’t get a lot of headers but it fell perfectly for me. I told Hector what a cross it was.
“It is the kind of patterns we work on. I am trying to do my best when the boss picks me. I try to repay the trust.”
Arteta had sent on Pepe just before the goal and the Ivory Coast winger made a rapid impact as he doubled the lead in the 64th minute.
Bellerin slipped a pass to Pepe down the right flank and with the Blades’ defence backing off, he advanced to the edge of the area before guiding a composed low shot past Ramsdale at the climax of a flowing 19-pass move.
“What I liked is we adapted to a very different scenario,” Arteta said. “We had the right patience. The team is evolving in the right way in possession. We increased our ball speed, attacked with more purpose.”
Like Arsenal, Wolves returned to winning ways in the top flight yesterday, defeating Fulham 1-0 at Molineux through Pedro Neto’s strike.
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Sheffield United 1