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Sheffield United-Arsenal Preview
Sheffield United have the chance to complete their first double over Arsenal in 73 years on Saturday when the teams face off at the Emirates.
The promoted Blades (8-8-6) still harbor European hopes as they enter this contest sixth in the table on 32 points and both four points and four spots better than Arsenal (6-10-6). Sheffield United's constricting defensive style proved too much for the Gunners in the reverse fixture, riding Lys Mousset's goal on the half-hour to a 1-0 victory at Bramall Lane in October.
Chris Wilder's team continue to impress as they look to complete their first double of Arsenal since playing in the First Division in 1946-47. Sheffield United shook off back-to-back losses at table-toppers Liverpool and Manchester City with back-to-back wins, including a 1-0 home victory over West Ham United on Jan. 10.
Oliver McBurnie's goal in the 53rd minute separated the sides, but not without some late drama as VAR correctly ruled out a West Ham equaliser in stoppage time after showing Irons midfielder Declan Rice handled the ball in the build-up to the goal. The three points put a positive cap on a good week for Sheffield, who extended Wilder's contract through 2024 ahead of the match.
"I feel for David [Moyes] and the players. The same thing has happened to us a few times. But we would've been devastated if we'd have drawn that game," Wilder told BBC Sport post-match. "Soon as they scored, no one was looking at it but I felt for the opposition - it's the same moans and groans as we've had in the past.
"We had to improve the performance because tonight wasn't at our best. We've had to grind one out. We gave the ball away cheaply. We had two or three really good chances but didn't take them. We made a poor decision late in the game but that's what happens when you go backwards and they came on to us."
McBurnie, though, got into a little bit of hot water over the weekend, with the FA "reminding him of his responsibilities" after making what appears to be an obscene gesture while watching his former team Swansea City play a derby match in the Championship versus Cardiff City on Sunday.
"We received a letter from the FA talking about Oli's future conduct, which is quite right, I believe," Wilder said Friday. "They're right up on stuff like that, so for them not to take any other action I think speaks volumes for what it was.
"I've had a word with Oli, but I've got no problem with him going to Swansea. It's an obvious connection, I've talked about it, a big, big connection from when he was a young player."
Aside from their defeats at the Etihad and Anfield, the Blades have been a formidable road outfit with three victories and six draws in the other nine contests. Two of those six draws have come at fellow Big Six sides Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and Sheffield United have shipped just 11 goals in their 11 road matches.
Arsenal will have to find a way to breach Sheffield United's defence without top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose three-match suspension for his red card following his heavy challenge on Crystal Palace's Max Meyer last week was upheld by the FA.
Aubameyang leads the Gunners with 16 goals in all competitions - including 14 of the team's 29 in league play -- and accounted for their goal in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
"It's a big shame and a big loss for us, because as well we know Auba's intention when he plays," Arsenal boss Mikael Arteta told the club's official website. "But unfortunately he mistimed the tackle, he made a decision and we have to accept it."
In his first transfer window following the sacking of Unai Emery, Arteta has kept any potential incoming targets close to the vest, though he did shoot down rumours of Manchester City centre back John Stones and AC Milan central midfielder Franck Kessie as possible additions.
In addition to Aubameyang's absence, Arteta likely will be without defenders Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin as well as central midfielder Lucas Torreira, which may result in 18-year-old Bukayo Saka getting a start at left back.
After a seven-match winless stretch (0-3-4) in all competitions at the Emirates, Arsenal have recorded back-to-back victories via clean sheets. The Gunners are seeking their second three-match run of shutouts at home, also accomplished from Sept. 24-Oct. 6.
Updated January 16, 2020