Given Sheffield United’s miserable form this season, there might not be much of an argument for suggesting this could be a good time to face Arsenal. They arrive at Bramall Lane on a run of two league wins in six and without a win in their last four in all competitions. The return leg in the Czech Republic is just four days later and manager Paul Heckingbottom will be hoping Sunday’s opponents have one eye on that crucial fixture. However, he says whoever Arteta picks for tomorrow’s clash, it will still be packed full of talent.
Paul Heckingbottom said “I hope that’s the case this weekend, definitely (one eye on Europe). I think it’s something that over the years those top clubs have become used to, whether a Wednesday to a Saturday game or a Thursday to a Sunday game.They recruit the squads to cope with that and are used to adapting the changes, the team and the logistical aspects. Over the years it has become less of an issue. I wouldn’t mind it being an issue on Sunday, as I said, and we will try and capitalise on that. We obviously look at the team they put out on Thursday night but that’s as far as it goes. We prepare for the game tactically, where we see their strengths and where we see their weaknesses and how that relates to us.”
Last season’s encounter between the two sides saw United come out on top courtesy of a goal from Lys Mousset. The result signalled the end of Unai Emery’s reign in charge and he was given his marching orders not long after that defeat. With pressure mounting on Arteta, he will be looking to avoid a similar fate and is well aware of what to expect.
Mikel Arteta said “They are fighting every single game, which is not easy for the opponent and we are going to face a difficult game again. We have no time to prepare or recover, but we know what we are going to be facing.”
That result last season, under the lights, is something Heckingbottom says his players can take inspiration from.
Paul Heckingbottom said “We’d love a repeat of that. I remember watching that game. Would love a repeat of that performance and result, obviously. We know the one thing that is missing is the fans, that atmosphere was electric. We won’t have that on Sunday but what we can control is our performance, draw on those feelings and their memories. They will be preparing for their best and to come and turn us over and we can’t allow that to happen. We are going to prepare best we can to give that type of performance again.”
The Blades have won just one of their last eight Premier League matches and have picked up just 14 points from their 30 matches. They have tasted defeat in all three of Paul Heckingbottom’s matches in charge and but for a spirited second half at Chelsea in the FA Cup, have struggled for form. The prospect of facing Arsenal right now under the circumstances could be as daunting as it gets, but history shows Sunday might actually be the best time to play the Gunners. Mikel Arteta’s side have not fared too well in the Premier League encounters immediately after a Europa League tie this season. They have won just three of their 10 fixtures and Thursday’s 1-1 draw at home to Slavia Prague heaped more pressure on the under-fire Spaniard. Currently 10th in the table and nine points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, Arsenal’s season and, it seems, Arteta’s job is hanging on their European fortunes.
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