The FA Cup resumes action this weekend, with Sheffield United welcoming Arsenal to Bramall Lane for a sixth round tie that has been a long time coming. The Blades have not been in especially good form since football resumed earlier this month, while the Gunners have also struggled. Clashes between these sides have a history of producing drama, especially in cup competitions, so it should be a cracking game. The Blades will not be backed by their passionate home fans, of course, with all games being played behind closed doors, which may hand Arsenal an advantage.
Chris Wilder’s Blades teams have been one of this season’s surprise packages. United are were very much in the hunt for a top-five finish in the Premier League before football was suspended in March, after being promoted from the Championship last season. Their form has not been great since the resumption, though, with them yet to score a goal in their three games. After a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, they have suffered two 3-0 defeats, at the hands of Newcastle United and Manchester United. All three of those matches have been away from home, though, so Wilder’s men will be pleased to be back on home soil.
Arsenal seemed disorganised and in a bit of disarray in their first two Premier League games after football resumed. In their first two games after the resumption, both of which were away from home, the Gunners were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City and 2-1 by Brighton & Hove Albion. They returned to form at Southampton in midweek, winning 2-0 at St Mary’s. Mikel Arteta will have been pleased with that result, but there is still work to be done for the Gunners and this trip to South Yorkshire is far from straightforward.
Blades manager Wilder admitted this week that it is hard to put right the things that are going wrong with his team at the moment. With the games coming thick and fast and the team playing every couple of days or so, the coaching staff simply do not have the time to work in things on the training ground. He acknowledged that some of his players are currently below par, and the enforced break does not seem to have done the Blades any good, draining the momentum from their campaign. Energy levels have seemed lacking, and United, low scorers anyway, have had a real problem scoring goals in recent games.
Arsenal have also had a problem with scoring goals since football resumed, although Arteta will have have been glad that his team managed to find the net twice in midweek. We do think that goals will be at premium in this game, though, and NetBet are offering a price of 31/4 on there being less than 0.5 goals scored in the match.
These two sides have met twice already in the Premier League this season, and the Blades have a slight edge from those two encounters. Wilder’s team won 1-0 at the Lane back in October, thanks to a goal from Lys Mousset in the first half. The second meeting at the Emirates Stadium ended in a 1-1 draw. Gabriel Martinelli put the Gunners into the lead in injury time at the end of the first half, before Scottish international John Fleck found an equaliser with just seven minutes of normal time remaining. If you think the Scot can score again on Sunday, NetBet have him priced at 16/5 on the anytime goalscorer market.
The Gunners are the first top-flight team that United have faced in their FA Cup run this season. The Blades have beaten non-league Fylde, Millwall and Reading (after extra time) to reach the quarter-final stage of the competition. Arsenal have overcome Leeds United, Bournemouth and Portsmouth on their route to this stage of the Cup, so the Blades will be their biggest challenge in the competition so far.
Our prediction for this game is that it will be very low scoring, with a single goal deciding the outcome. The Blades’ dismal run in front of goal will end, and we suspect they will claim a place in the FA Cup semi-final with a 1-0 win. NetBet are offering a price of 35/4 on this prediction turning out to be accurate, and those look like good odds to us. Arsenal have a record of struggling at Bramall Lane, and that home advantage may just given the Blades the edge, even though the famous Kop End at the Lane will be empty.