By Chris Harris
You'd need a rather short memory to label Saturday's clash at Emirates Stadium as a 'home banker'. The same was said before Arsenal hosted Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, and both teams escaped with a point. Can Sheffield United do likewise? Anything other than a defeat would be the perfect way for Neil Warnock to celebrate his 1,000th league game as a manager.
Warnock's side haven't looked out of their depth in the Premiership - they could easily have beaten Liverpool and Blackburn at home - but they are already looking up at the rest of the top flight. We asked James Shield of the Sheffield Star about United's key men, their prospects of survival and why a certain striker has a point to prove this season.
THE STORY SO FAR
"With the exception of the first half at Tottenham, United have not really been on the end of a hiding or looked outclassed. They could have won any of their home games so far against Liverpool, Blackburn and Reading. A contentious penalty got Liverpool back into the game, United missed two penalties against Blackburn and created enough chances to win three games, and some pretty desperate defending handed Reading that game on a plate. They've done well at home and apart from that first half at White Hart Lane they have always competed, so that is the glimmer of hope they need to know they can survive. Some have spoken about a lack of creativity but United have had an awful lot of players out injured which has robbed them of an extra dimension in midfield. The main thing that have go to do to turn things around is cut out errors at the back. I know that is something they have worked on and, with Brian Kidd at the club now, hopefully they can learn from their mistakes."
"Neil made no secret of the fact that he looked at certain players over the summer - including Benni McCarthy - but they were financially out of United's league at this stage. The carrot for United is to stay up and then receive the extra television money for next season which will allow them to compete for those types of players. The manager did bring in some players with Premiership experience, lads like David Unsworth who are worth having around the place because they know what is required at this level and are quick to give out advice. Neil has done well to bring in players who have something to prove like Claude Davis from Preston, who was highly-rated in the Championship and now has the chance to show he is worthy of that reputation. Rob Hulse is another one, he did well at Leeds last year and is very hungry to do well because he doesn't feel he was given a chance at West Brom when they were in the Premiership. His chances were few and far between - he even played full-back at one point - so he's desperate to show he can cut it at this level. He's been one of United's best players, he scored against Liverpool and Reading but his all-round game looks good."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO...
"There probably aren't what you would call 'household' names at Bramall Lane but that's OK because there is an excellent team spirit and a good work ethic. Having said that there are a couple of players who could make a name for themselves this season. Phil Jagielka is one of them, he's got a lot of ability and is versatile, although I think his best position is central defence. Danny Webber and Michael Tonge are not kids any more and they have a chance to make a name for themselves and fulfil their promise. If they do well then United will get the benefit from that."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"The best case scenario? Stay up, it's as simple as that. The higher the better but success for United this season will be measured by whether they stay up or not. Wigan and West Ham gave everyone hope last season that promoted clubs can survive, but you have to remember that West Ham went out and spent £7million on a striker, United don't have that financial muscle. Survival is the main aim and I think it will be tight but they are capable of doing it. They have to cut the mistakes out and that will help them turn defeats into draws and draws into wins. They have to win their home games, that will be vital."
"Neil is looking forward to his 1000th league game as a manager, he joins a select club which includes the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Dario Gradi, Lenny Lawrence, Dave Bassett, Alan Buckley and Sir Matt Busby. It's a proud achievement. Neil has not said an awful lot on how he will approach the Arsenal game tactically, he is playing his cards close to his chest, but I'm sure I won't surprise anyone by suggesting that United will try to keep things tight and get close to Arsenal's creative players. That will be their aim but, at some point, they have got to go and try and win the game. They can't sit back for 90 minutes because they will get beat. On the injury front, Tonge and Webber are out while Craig Short is a big doubt."
Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 21 Sep 2006