'One of worst displays I've ever seen' - Sheff Utd's new low

1 month ago 22
Declan RiceArsenal went five goals ahead by the 39th minute, which is the earliest an away side has had a five-goal lead in Premier League history

If it was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it. If this was baseball, they would have invoked the mercy rule. If this was a park game, they would have mixed up the teams.

The first half of Sheffield United's match against Arsenal was as one-sided an exhibition of football as has been seen in the Premier League.

Arsenal led 5-0 after 39 minutes - the earliest point at which any side has gained such an advantage in Premier League history.

They had 80% possession and 16 shots on goal - with seven on target - to Sheffield United's one wayward effort.

United have been overwhelmed at regular points in the Premier League this season, losing 8-0 at home to Newcastle in September - but for some observers, this match was a real low point.

"That was a disgrace, that half of football," Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said at half-time.

"It's probably one of the worst performances I've ever seen. I can't think of anything worse I've ever seen in a half of football than that.

"If Arsenal were playing an FA Cup tie against a team from League Two or the National League, I wouldn't expect them to be 5-0 up at half-time, so that's not acceptable in the Premier League."

'I'm struggling personally... it's been a painful season'

Sheffield United lined up with a back four, as Chris Wilder attempted to replicate their respectable showing in a 2-0 defeat by Liverpool in the first game of his second spell on 6 December.

Before the quarter-hour mark, that plan was out the window with Arsenal three goals to the good and Wilder already making changes to his team's shape and personnel.

Afterwards, he indicated that his players had not followed his instructions and suggested he would look to the club's younger players for the remainder of their relegation battle.

While he has often come out fighting in the media after poor results, Wilder cut a much more bereft figure this time.

"I'm struggling personally. Knowing what Sheffield United fans are, they will be struggling with it as well," he said.

"We thought we had a blueprint to a good performance from Liverpool at home, 4-5-1 on the counter, I thought that was the best way forward. But then we made elementary defensive mistakes.

"It has been a painful season. There are a lot of broken and damaged players out there. This is what the league can do to you."

Wilder, who sent on academy products William Osula, Andre Brooks and Oliver Arblaster in the second half, added: "There was a vibe around this place that we could get something from this game, but if people don't stick to a plan you will be punished at every level. Maybe the young guys will want to stick to that plan."

'The way we started made a big difference'

In the first 15 minutes, Auston Trusty was demolished by Bukayo Saka with painful regularity down the left, while Jayden Bogle faired little better against Gabriel Martinelli on the right.

Anel Ahmedhodzic, the Sheffield United captain, cut an angry, impotent figure, attempting to throw opponents to the floor. He was substituted in the second half, a damning indictment of the man with the armband.

It was the unfortunate Oliver Norwood who was taken off early as Wilder tried to stem the tide, but ultimately the only thing that stopped Arsenal was Saka and Martinelli themselves having to be replaced.

Saka came off at half-time as he was feeling unwell and his replacement Fabio Vieira needed minutes, said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, while Martinelli suffered a cut to his right foot in the second half and had to be helped from the pitch.

"A great night," said Arteta afterwards. "The way we started game made a big difference, we were aggressive and positive and showed great quality."

Even after putting the game to bed within 15 minutes, Arsenal kept attacking to boost their goal difference, which could prove an important factor in the title race.

The Gunners have the best goal difference in the division - their +45 is six better than Liverpool, and 10 superior to Manchester City.

"That was very early in the game, and you cannot be satisfied," added Arteta. "That comes internally from the players, I see it every day in training. They want to make each other better.

"We know what they want to do, but we also have to manage the game."

United are the first side in English league football to lose three consecutive home league games by at least a five-goal margin. It is also the fourth time this season that the Blades have lost a home Premier League match by at least five goals, becoming the first side in a top-flight season to do so.

"Me and the coaches have to get together and decide what to do. We cannot have this as our stock home result, that is totally unacceptable," said Wilder.

Despite his downbeat demeanour, Wilder insists he is "not accepting our fate". There will be no throwing in of the towel, asking the referee to stop the fight.

But with performances like that first half, then Sheffield United players' actions seem to be speaking louder than their manager's words.

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