Ceballos’ injury time strike delivered victory after Chris Wilder’s side equalised a first half Nicolas Pepe penalty with four minutes remaining through David McGoldrick.
With the tie set to go to extra time Mikel Arteta’s men showed character to ease past the Blades in a dramatic FA Cup quarter final on Sunday lunchtime to keep alive hopes of silverware.
Team news and previous h2h
Arsenal made five changes from the 2-0 victory over Southampton with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Joe Willock, Sead Kolasinac and Alex Lacazette drafted in for Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Dani Ceballos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah.
Arteta again opted for three at the back, this time Sead Kolasinac, David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi with Kieran Tierney and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as auxiliary wing-backs with Bukayo Saka again featuring further forward on the left.
The Gunners were aiming to gain revenge for their defeat last time out in south Yorkshire after Lys Mousset scored the winner back in October to seal a 1-0 victory, in what was a truly awful performance from then boss Unai Emery’s side.
Yet, Sunday’s clash was in the world’s oldest cup competition with the pair having plenty of previous - with their last meeting in the FA Cup in March 2005 in a fifth-round replay. After a goalless draw, the Gunners won 4-2 on penalties at Bramall Lane. However, prior to kick-off the Gunners had won just one of their past eight away matches against the Blades in all competitions (D4 L3), a 3-0 win in October 2007 in the League Cup.
In what could be seen as a good omen Arsenal have gone on to win the FA Cup in three of the six seasons they have knocked out Sheffield United (1935-36, 2002-03 and 2004-05) – while also progressing in 13 of their past 15 FA Cup quarter-final matches, only falling against against Manchester United in 2011 and 2016 against Watford.
Judging by the mood of Blades fans following their poor form since the restart - including a brace of comprehensive 3-0 defeats on the road against Newcastle United and Manchester United you did wonder if their high-intensity, adrenaline-based all-action style is hard to produce on demand, certainly following a three month hiatus in which their first target of Premier League survival was reached in some style a long time ago.
It was instructive to note the stadium anthem-style music played at full volume over the Blades PA prior to kick-off in a bid to rouse their players. Yet without their passionate fans bolstering Wilder’s excellent team at Bramall Lane you felt if physiologically they were already on their summer holidays.
Arsenal for their part were looking to build on their hugely encouraging 2-0 victory over Southampton at St Mary’s on Thursday, following two insipid defeats to Manchester City and Brighton as they completed their fourth consecutive game on the road after the season’s restart.
And so it was to prove after a dramatic 90 minutes
Sheffield United vs Arsenal first half
We were soon to find out that the home side’s vigour and intensity seemed unabated from their superb early season form – as witnessed when John Lundestram thought he had put the Blades ahead after a spell of early pressure, only for VAR to disallow in an early scare for Arsenal in a stark reminder to stay strong and alert at all times.
The basis of United’s solidity this term has been their defence. From a vantage point high up in the Bramall Lane stands it was interesting to note the ebb and flow of Sheffield United's backline - which easily morphed from a five or four to three depending on possession and where the ball was. This strategy has been integral to their success this season.
However, after a bright start from the home side Arsenal began to dominate with Joe Willock and Saka dovetailing efficiently before working the ball to captain for the day, Lacazette, who was adjudged by referee Paul Tierney to have been fouled by Chris Basham in the box.
Up stepped Pepe to slot home to put the Gunners 1-0 up on 25 minutes and get the Gunners dreaming of Wembley.
The impressive Tierney showed excellent athleticism and drive down the left channel throughout the opening 45 minutes and could have put Arsenal 2-0 ahead but his half volley flew wide. The former Celtic defender then fed Pepe who could and should have doubled his tally and the lead but fired wide moments before the break.
For their part, Blades captain Oli Norwood tested Martinez but Bernd Leno’s replacement gathered well.
Sheffield United vs Arsenal second half
The second period started off brightly with both sides intent on attacking. The home side could have equalised on the hour but Basham’s powerful header went wide when he was well placed. The move came after Egan had the ball in the net four minutes earlier but VAR ruled it out for offside.
Arteta made a double substitution on 66 minutes when Ceballos and Nketiah came on for Willock and Lacazette as the Arsenal head coach aimed to make the game safe with an injection of fresh legs.
However, with Arsenal set to coast into the semi-finals of the cup, they switched off to allow McGoldrick to level in a crowded box to make the scores 1-1 with four minutes to go.
Incredibly the Blades could have won the match moments later but for Martinez making an excellent block from Billy Sharp. The Gunners then broke forward as Ceballos’ late finish won the match for the north Londoners to break Sheffield United hearts.
The magic of the cup? You bet for Arsenal, while Wilder’s side can be proud of their efforts against the Gunners – and throughout this season during their successful return to the Premier League.
As for Arteta and his men a trip to Wembley beckons next month after a frantic finale.