Arsenal moved back into the top half of the Premier League with an ultimately comfortable 3-0 win against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Two goals from Alexandre Lacazette and a tap in for Gabriel Martinelli, returning to the starting eleven for the first time since January, were enough to give Arsenal a much needed three points in their late push for European qualification.
Following the disappointing 1-1 draw against Slavia Prague in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals, Mikel Arteta made four changes to his Arsenal side.
Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers started in defence, whilst Dani Ceballos returned to partner Thomas Partey in midfield. In the wide positions, Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli replaced the ill Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and the injured Emile Smith Rowe.
The Story of the Game
Despite the changes, the first half began slowly for the Gunners. Perhaps surprisingly, it was Granit Xhaka, not Bukayo Saka, that Arteta deployed at left back, with the latter instead taking up the no.10 role normally filled by the injured Martin Odegaard.
Despite being just 19 years old, it was yet another position in which the England international thrived, whilst Dani Ceballos found himself at the heart of much of the Gunners' good play.
It was the Spaniard who provided the touches of class for Arsenal in an otherwise stale first half. A deft backheel set Martinelli away, who shot into the side netting when a cross may have been the better option.
Ten minutes later, another backheel on the edge of the Sheffield United area allowed Lacazette to fire beyond Aaron Ramsdale.
The move leading to the goal was a moment of magic in an otherwise stale half of football involving one touch football between Ceballos, Saka and Lacazette before the French striker turned it home.
The second half began in the same vein as the first, with Mikel Arteta’s side dominating the ball but failing to create many clear-cut chances.
The Gunners were evidently a class above their opponents (who are now all but relegated from the Premier League), yet on too many occasions they lacked cohesion in the final third. By comparison to their first goal, Arsenal’s second was a scrappy affair, Martinelli tapping in after Aaron Ramsdale parried Nicolas Pepe’s shot into the Brazilian’s path.
It was Martinelli’s first goal since January 2020, and repaid the faith that Arteta had shown in the teenager by rewarding him with a starting berth.
One minor blot stained the Gunners' copybook as the influential Bukayo Saka limped off the pitch with what looked like a dead leg soon after the second goal, but it was not enough to stop the Gunners from producing a well-deserved third goal.
Thomas Partey’s ball found Lacazette in between the Sheffield United centre-backs, and the French striker coolly tucked the ball home, bringing up his 50th Premier League goal in the process.
After a tricky midweek tie, a comfortable victory to Sheffield United was exactly the tonic that Arsenal and Arteta needed.
In truth, the Blades were never in the game, and it felt like a case of when, not if, Arsenal took their chances. However, the comfort of the 3-0 result will give Arsenal fans and players great confidence going into a season defining tie against Slavia Prague in the Europa League quarter final second leg.
The Gunners', however, could not go any better prepared.
Man of the Match: Dani Ceballos
Freed from his restrictive role alongside Partey, Ceballos popped up all over the pitch, working tirelessly for his side. His perchant for a backheel had a hand in creating 3 glorious chances for Arsenal, whilst his all round tidy play kept Arteta's side ticking over.