Sheffield United host Arsenal in an FA Cup quarter-final showdown behind closed doors at Bramall Lane. Mark O'Haire analyses the odds.
"The Gunners have won just six of their last 20 away Premier League games as favourites and registered only three league wins on the road this term"
Sheffield United v Arsenal
Sunday June 28, 13:00
Sheff Utd exposed at Old Trafford
It has been a desperately disappointing return to Premier League football for Sheffield United. The Blades have accrued just one point and failed to even score in their three consecutive away fixtures at Aston Villa (0-0), Newcastle (0-3) and most recently Man Utd (0-3), a run of results that's ended enthusiastic talk of Champions League qualification.
Chris Wilder's charges were behind inside the opening 10 minutes at Old Trafford with the deficit doubled right on half-time as Sheff Utd were beaten by two near post runs and clinical finishes from Anthony Martial. The visitors never looked like gaining a foothold back into the contest and shipped a third and final strike 15 minutes from time.
Wilder refused to defend the Blades' display post-match, saying: "I expect a better performance. If you give the ball away to players like that you are going to get hurt. There's a to look at from our point of view." Sheff Utd will at least have goalkeeper Dean Henderson and defender John Egan available again, whilst Jack O'Connell is close to full fitness here.
Arsenal impress at St Mary's
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta remains hopeful that his side can qualify for Europe after the Gunners silenced a few critics with a well-deserved 2-0 triumph against Southampton at a blistering hot St Mary's on Thursday night. Having been beaten by both Man City and Brighton beforehand, the overdue victory pushes Arsenal back into the top-half.
The Gunners were helped along their way by a dreadful error from Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy who faltered under pressure from Eddie Nketiah. However, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had already rattled the woodwork and Arsenal sealed the success when substitute Joe Willock finished after Alexandre Lacazette's free-kick struck the wall.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and Granit Xhaka produced solid performances to give the Gunners a foundation to work from. But Arsenal will head to Sheffield without Bernd Leno, Gabriel Martinelli, Pablo Mari, Lucas Torreira and Calum Chambers. David Luiz is available again but doubts surround Matteo Guendouzi's involvement.
Blades back at Bramall Lane
Sheffield United have suffered a solitary reverse in their last eight home outings against Arsenal (W3-D4-L1) with the defeat arriving in a 2007 League Cup tie. The Blades have beaten the Gunners here already this term in Premier League action (1-0), whilst also picking up a warranted point (1-1) during the pair's meeting at the Emirates in January.
Sheff Utd [3.20] have the reached the quarter-final stage for the first time since a run to the semi-finals in 2013/14. Despite the downturn in results since the Premier League's resumption, the Blades still boast an impressive W11-D11-L4 against clubs outside the top-three, including W7-D3-L2 here at Bramall Lane. The hosts will be close to full-strength here.
Arsenal [2.46] have progressed from 13 of their last 15 FA Cup quarter-finals and will be keen to follow up Thursday's victory. However, the Gunners have won just six of their last 20 away Premier League games as favourites and registered only three league wins on the road this term (W3-D8-L5), as well as triumphing only twice in 14 against top-half teams.
Oppose Gunners in tight tussle
Sheff Utd's watertight backline has been breached three times in the Blades' two recent encounters although allowances can be made. A key sending off and unusual individual error cost Chris Wilder at Newcastle, whilst United were forced to field a weakened defence featuring only three of their first-choice six-man rearguard at Old Trafford in midweek.
Returning to Bramall Lane, along with key defensive figures back in situ should give Chris Wilder's group the required boost to be competitive again. Nevertheless, issues still need to be ironed out in attack with the hosts attempting just three shots on-target across their three games since their return to Premier League action.
Arsenal have provided more thrills and spills but it's worth noting the visitors have created the fewest Premier League chances since Mikel Arteta arrived in the hot-seat. With that in mind, the Gunners' far-from-reliable road record, the quick turnaround and a fourth successive road trip since returning to competitive action, I'm happy to oppose Arsenal.
There's a case to be made for Sheff Utd being favourites for this so I'll happily take the evens available on Sheff Utd Double Chance and Under 3.5 Goals. The Blades have seen 11/15 (73%) home league fixtures produce Under 2.5 Goals [1.82] with just one featuring four goals or more; Arsenal have crossed this barrier once in their last eight away days.
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 141.00 pts
Returned: 157.57 pts
P/L: +16.57 pts