LONDON –This was never going to be the night that will define Arsenal’s season and the level of pressure Mikel Arteta will face in the months ahead: that comes in five days’ time in Prague. But with that in mind, a performance and a result to set up a match that will dictate whether the club’s best avenue into Europe next season remains open was certainly welcome for Arteta.
Winning breeds confidence, as Arteta pointed out post-match, so the nature of this victory, which moved Arsenal back into the top half, was perhaps all he could have asked for as they prepare for their return with Slavia Prague on Thursday. A clean sheet, the continuation of Alexandre Lacazette’s fine recent form, and a confidence-boosting display all across the field, with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka impressing.
“I’m really happy,” Arteta said. “From the start, I had the feeling the guys were at it, we understood how we had to attack and we were efficient. We controlled the game, played at a high level and scored some nice goals.”
Yes, had they been able to handpick a side to prepare for Thursday, it would have been Sheffield United. The Blades’ relegation could be confirmed next weekend and this was another timid display from a side whose effort has never been questioned but who have been woefully short all season of the quality required to survive.
“It’s an unforgiving league,” Paul Heckingbottom said. “It might seem a harsh scoreline but the margins are so fine, you have to be switched on.”
No moment better summed up the Sheffield United manager’s sentiment than the one that decided this game. Having fallen behind to Lacazette’s first after half an hour, United were, as so often this season, architects of their own downfall.
John Lundstram carelessly gave the ball away on the edge of his area, and after Aaron Ramsdale saved Nicolas Pépé’s shot, Gabriel Martinelli was on hand to tap in from close range. Given the Blades’ profligacy, there was never any real doubt from that moment that Arsenal would claim three points.
But there were positives aplenty for them on top of the result, not least the form of Lacazette. His double here brought up his 50th Premier League goal for Arsenal, only the 10th player to achieve the feat. With five goals in his past five games, the Frenchman will likely be decisive if the club’s season is to end with some semblance of success.
“He’s playing well at the moment,” Arteta said. “He’s producing good performances.” Lacazette was in the thick of the action all evening, with his first-half strike the least Arsenal deserved for their efforts. It came when a magnificent backheel from Dani Ceballos freed Lacazette, who shot past Ramsdale with unwavering confidence.