By Chris Harris
Reading's success this season is hardly a surprise - after all, they ran away with the Championship last term. But Sheffield United? Their resurgence, after a slow start to the campaign, has definitely raised a few eyebrows.
Some wondered who would provide a cutting edge for the Blades, and who would blunt their opponents. Priceless victories against Newcastle, Watford, Charlton and Wigan have answered those questions and carried Neil Warnock's side out of the relegation zone.
Defeats either side of Christmas haven't helped United's cause but they have posed problems for some of the Premiership's finest at Bramall Lane and there is no reason to expect anything different when Arsenal come to town on Saturday.
We spoke to James Shield of the Sheffield Star ahead of the game. Read on to find out why United have found their feet after a slow start, why their captain deserves a special mention, why Warnock has revised his transfer window plans and why Emirates Stadium is so impressive.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It is going well. They haven't really been on the receiving end with the exception of the first half at Tottenham. Even down there they rallied in the second half. They haven't looked out of their depth even though a lot of people questioned whether they would be able to handle it. There was a big question mark but the squad was always quietly confident and, in a way, they enjoyed being written off. Recent results have given them belief and you can see that. Michael Tonge has spoken about the hype there is around the Premiership and the tendency for some teams, in their early games, to sit back and wait for their opponents to do something special. Now it's evident that United are going at teams and posing them some questions. Those results at Watford, Wigan and Newcastle were big, big wins."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"It's interesting because lads like Rob Hulse have done well and some of the other established names have too. But the ones who have really stood out are the players who perhaps some people thought would not make the step up into the Premiership. Two of the young lads from the academy - Nicky Law and Stephen Quinn - they have done ever so well and have come into the team on merit. It's the little things like that which have given the manager more options. The other player who really deserves a mention is the captain, Chris Morgan. He was left out of the side after the home defeat against Reading but has come back in and been superb. United had a poor 20 minutes against Reading and a few changes were made. Morgs was one who dropped out of the side but the way he has responded, he has been a credit to himself. No player likes to be dropped, and it's even harder when you're the captain, but Morgan has really stood out."
"I think the manager will look to improve the squad but while he was looking at perhaps five players six weeks ago he has gone on record to scale that down to one or two quality players. That reinforces what I said about those players who have shown they can perform at this level, they have given the manager more options. In terms of reinforcing the squad Warnock will be going for quality, not just weight of numbers. He likes a striker so will probably look to reinforce in attack and perhaps a midfielder too."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Survival is the first target but, although Warnock would not elaborate, it's interesting that he said he's given them a list of teams they are confident of finishing above. Some of the teams he's listed would surprise people. If United finished fourth from bottom it would still be an achievement but there are reasons to believe they can do better. People aren't getting carried away and it could still be a dogfight but United are capable of avoiding that scenario in the last three or four weeks."
"They will show Arsenal a lot of respect because they have earned that right, but at the same time United will look to pose Arsenal questions of their own. They have become a lot more confident. I would imagine United will make provision for some Arsenal players but it won't be a containment exercise by any means."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I thought Emirates Stadium was superb, a lot better than I imagined in fact. It's nice to see a stadium which, on all levels, has had a bit of thought gone into it. The facilities are excellent and it's a cracking arena to play football in. I think United were disappointed with the 3-0 defeat but in a strange sort of way they were quite positive about their performance. They held Arsenal for quite a while and they took heart from that."
Copyright 2013 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 28 Dec 2006