Mikel Arteta has issued a warning to his teammates at Arsenal that tomorrow’s game against struggling Sheffield United at the Emirates will be “tricky.” The Gunners are still vying for the title from last season, while the Blades, who came to London at the bottom of the standings and are still yet to win a game this season, are having wildly different seasons thus far.
However, United’s performances against the best teams they have faced thus far—both Manchester clubs and Arsenal’s fierce rivals Spurs—should give them some optimism going into what their manager, Paul Heckingbottom, believes will be the hardest test of the season. Even though they received no points from any of the three games, given the recent capitulation, that could have easily been five goals hit the Blades hard.
“Looking at the way they have played against all the top teams and how much they have suffered to beat them; some of them scored in the 100th minute, some others scoring late goals,” Arteta said. “They’ve been really tricky games so we expect the same. They are fighting for their lives, like we want to win every single game, and it will be a tricky game.”
Asked what he wants to see better from last weekend’s draw at Chelsea, which saw his side bounce back from two goals down to draw 2-2, Arteta added: “The way we started the first 15-20 minutes, especially the way we lost momentum by losing certain key duels that changed the shift and momentum of the game. Then for other periods, we continued to do a lot of the good things that we do, but all the time we need to be better, play better, be more dominant and be more efficient, especially in the final third.”
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United travel south with around a dozen senior players missing through injury, while Arteta was dealt a double blow himself on the eve of the game with striker Gabriel Jesus and midfielder Thomas Partey ruled out. Unlike his opposite number Heckingbottom, the Spaniard does have the options to cope – with £65m forward Kai Havertz one option to replace Jesus up-front.
But that hasn’t stopped Arteta floating the bizarre idea of allowing clubs to make TEN substitutions as the number of minutes played in games increases. While that would undoubtedly appeal to clubs like Arsenal, who have benches packed full of international talent, it would only act as a further nail in the coffin for clubs such as United who do not have the luxury of carrying such squads.
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“Well, we have more games, more competitiveness and physically the standards are higher,” Arteta said. “We’re going to play more minutes, we have to do that or instead of five subs, we can have 10. Now, the five subs are something normal, before it was a big fight to go from three to five. Now I cannot imagine a game in the conditions we have today after that last year and the World Cup, that we didn’t have the five subs.
“It would be so difficult, so we’d have to think. If the calendar extends, for sure we have to think about ways of not dropping the quality. And the only way to do it is players have to have certain availability and you need players to pick. The laws will change and probably our capacity to do other things during games will change as well. You would have to adapt for sure.”