A first Premier League hat-trick from Eddie Nketiah fired Arsenal to a comprehensive 5-0 win over Sheffield United at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners were in complete control of the clash in north London, dominating possession throughout as Paul Heckingbottom’s side made barely any inroads into opposition territory.
After setting their stall out to defend, the Blades’ defense was breached just before the half-hour mark when Nketiah collected Declan Rice’s deft cross, before superbly turning Auston Trusty to slide the ball past Wes Foderingham.
Poor defending from a corner five minutes into the second half allowed Nketiah to fire home a second from close range, and he completed his hat-trick eight minutes later with a rocket of a shot that appeared to be gathering speed as it ripped into Foderingham’s net.
Fabio Vieira sent Foderingham the wrong way from the penalty spot after Oliver Norwood had brought him down inside the area two minutes from time, and Takehiro Tomiyasu made it five after more calamitous defending from a corner.
Sheffield United offered nothing in attack, with question marks sure to be raised about Heckingbottom’s future, and Arsenal cruised to victory to close the gap on neighborhood rivals Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the Premier League table to two points.
How the game unfolded
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta decided to drop captain Martin Odegaard to the bench after a relentless run of games, handing Emile Smith Rowe a start in midfield, and tasked Nketiah with leading the line having seen Gabriel Jesus ruled out through injury.
The Gunners usually look to their skipper to set the tempo, but they had more than enough quality against a Sheffield United side that handed Rhian Brewster a first start in 13 months.
Chances were few and far between in the opening exchanges, with Arsenal camped in Sheffield United’s half, but the visitors’ resistance, and spirit, were broken when Declan Rice and Nketiah combined just before the half-hour.
Arsenal’s £105m record signing dinked a beautifully weighted cross into Nketiah, and his deft control and turn left former Gunner Auston Trusty wading in treacle. The 24-year-old’s next touch was to slide the ball past Foderingham into the corner.
The pressure built from then on, with Sheffield United having neither the appetite nor ability to get forward and cause Arsenal problems and the only surprise was that the lead wasn’t doubled before the half-time interval.
Five minutes into the second time, Nketiah put the result beyond doubt, smashing into the top corner the first time after Foderingham had flapped at a corner under pressure from Ben White.
But it was the goal that sealed his hat-trick that will have everybody purring until Monday morning. Collecting the ball from Smith Rowe, Nketiah shifted the ball onto his right foot from 25 yards out before hammering an arrow of a shot into Foderingham’s top corner. The Sheffield United goalkeeper got nowhere near it, and was left groping at the proverbial ‘thin air’.
With the match ball assured, Nketiah even had the chance to hand penalty duties over to Fabio Vieira late on after the Portuguese substitute had his Achilles raked by Norwood. He stroked home the penalty with ease and then turned provider for Tomiyasu deep into injury time – the Japan international turning the ball home from close range as the Blades hopelessly defended a corner.
Arsenal player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: David Raya – 7/10 – One superb long-range pass to Martinelli reminded us all of why Raya’s ability on the ground has been the talk of the town. Had nothing to do with hands, truth be told.
RB: Ben White – 7/10 – Given a well-deserved rest just after the hour mark having started every one of Arsenal’s games this season.
CB: William Saliba – 7/10 – Coolness personified when in possession, though he was hardly put under any pressure.
CB: Jakub Kiwior – 7/10 – Will not have an easier afternoon of Premier League football this season.
LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko – 8/10 – Caused problems all afternoon by operating in a free role while holding possession. Doing so allowed Smith Rowe to drift out wide and look dangerous cutting in.
DM: Declan Rice – 9/10 – Lovely assist for Nketiah’s opening goal, clipping a perfectly weighted across between Norwood’s legs and beyond the reach of Trusty. The model of consistency and the dictator of everything in midfield.
CM: Kai Havertz – 6/10 – The kind of game you’d want Havertz to really stand out in, but it was again his teammates who shone brightest.
CM: Emile Smith Rowe – 7/10 – Grew into the game as Arsenal assumed complete control after the first goal. Nice assist on the résumé for Nketiah’s third.
RW: Bukayo Saka (c) – 7/10 – Made plenty of thoughtful runs off the ball, interchanging positions with Havertz and even Martinelli. A cut above the opposition.
CF: Eddie Nketiah – 10/10 – Bagged 15% of his career Premier League goals with a wonderful hat-trick. The first goal was smartly taken, the second instinctive, and the third absolutely magnificent.
LW: Gabriel Martinelli – 7/10 – Showed wonderful bursts of pace and quick feet to unsettle Sheffield United’s defense. Substituted early as he built up match fitness.
SUB: Takehiro Tomiyasu (65′ for White) – 7/10 – Joined in the fun to allow White some time with his feet up.
SUB: Leandro Trossard (65′ for Martinelli) – 6/10 – Helped Arsenal see out the game comfortably and drew a couple of fouls from Bogle.
SUB: Fabio Vieira (72′ for Smith Rowe) – 8/10 – Stroked home his penalty opportunity with aplomb and then grabbed an assist too.
SUB: Reiss Nelson (72′ for Saka) – N/A
Subs not used: Ramsdale (GK), Gabriel, Elneny, Odegaard, Jorginho
Mikel Arteta – 8/10 – Made the right decision resting captain Martin Odegaard, with his tactical nous also on show with Zinchenko’s free role. The Spaniard’s players were far superior in terms of quality but they were set up to win.