By Matt Fortune
Sheffield United were unexpectedly and unceremoniously dumped out of the Premier League on the final day of last season. Since then they have lost their long-serving manager Neil Warnock and captain Phil Jagielka.
Under the guidance of new boss Bryan Robson, the Blades lie 19th in the Championship but are just six points adrift of the coveted play-off places.
In recent weeks their form has started to take a turn in the right direction, and they will entertain a youthful Arsenal side at Bramall Lane on Wednesday - the scene of a demoralising defeat for the Gunners last season.
We spoke to James Shield of the Sheffield Star ahead of tonight's game. Read on for the lowdown on our Carling Cup opponents.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been a difficult start. They were a club in transition at the start of the season because not only were the team relegated, but there was a change in management and a change in styles. I think by the club's own admission it took them a little while longer than they would have liked to get used to that. If you look at the results they had early on, it is fair to say that it was extremely disappointing, but when you look at the bigger picture it's perhaps not too surprising. Earlier in the season it wasn't so much performance as it was individual errors at the back but recently they look to have cut those out and look much more of a solid unit. The key thing for Sheffield United is that in the last few games there have been signs that they are starting to resemble the sum of their parts.
"If you look at the other two sides that came down, Charlton and Watford both had time to prepare for the fact they were going down, whereas Sheffield United were all geared up for staying in the Premier League. Then the side went down in such controversial circumstances with the whole Tevez affair, and Bryan Robson has admitted that it somewhat overshadowed his preparations.
"I think the one thing that the manager has been dreadfully unlucky with is injuries. I know it's an excuse for everyone but all of his have been concentrated on the players he brought in. Looking at a couple, there is Gary Naysmith who is a full international and then Lee Hendrie - both players came in to add some balance and they have not been available.
"The Phil Jagielka departure was no surprise really especially when he got a call to the England 'B' squad. United's success of the summer though was keeping much of the squad intact and they managed to fend off a lot of interest. Had the whole squad just broken up it would have been a real shame and this season may well have just been a total non-event. It was also important that, with bringing youngsters in on loan, that the experienced players stayed with the club to help bring those lads on - Arsenal is a great example of that. All the wonderful kids they have got there would have definitely benefited from having the likes of Henry, Gilberto and Bergkamp around them."
"Robson has now bought in two defenders - Phil Bardsley from Manchester United and Gary Cahill from Villa. They are both in a sense like James Beattie [another summer signing] in the fact that they are Premier League players playing in the Championship, and that is what they look like. Although they are both young lads they do bring an extra quality and an extra consistency and that has helped to bring the best out of some of the players that perhaps were not performing earlier in the season."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"It always used to be that scoring goals was a problem at Sheffield United but right now they are blessed in that department. Certainly they do have a lot of firepower for a Championship side with Beattie, Billy Sharp from Scunthorpe who was scoring goals for fun in the lower leagues, Jamaican international Luton Shelton, Jon Stead and also Rob Hulse to come back from injury - so scoring goals is definitely not a problem. The key will be staying as consistent and cohesive at the back."
"There is certainly a belief at Sheffield United, especially among the players from last year [who beat Arsenal at Bramall Lane], that they can claim the scalp again. Trying to predict Robson's team though is hard. In truth I think that had United been top of the league then I think he may well have been tempted to put out a first choice X1 and have a go at it. However, in the position the club is in, and with the fixtures coming up hugely important to the long-term future, he may just protect a few players on Wednesday. His selection will be just as intriguing as Arsène Wenger's."