Sheffield United fell 2-1 short of reaching the FA Cup semi-final thanks to an injury-time winner from Dani Ceballos.
Arsenal took a first-half lead from the penalty and held it for most of the game, but the Blades looked to have taken the game to extra time after David McGoldrick’s late equaliser.
However, having had the better of the second-half play, their good work was undone as Ceballos produced a cool finish to Dean Henderson’s near post to end United’s cup ambitions and make European qualification the sole priority for the rest of the season.
Arsenal kicked off a quiet opening five minutes. The first meaningful attack from either team saw United win a corner, Jack Robinson’s shot deflected wide.
However, the game gathered pace after United won a corner, and Ollie Norwood’s cross to the back post was met by Oli McBurnie, who headed it across the goalmouth for John Lundstrum to nod the ball in for the opening goal. But it wasn’t so straightforward for Chris Wilder’s men, as a VAR check revealed Lundstrum was clearly offside and the goal was wiped off.
They had the next chance of the game too, a long throw from Robinson found Shkodran Mustafi – tasked with marking McBurnie – and his glancing header was nearly picked up by David McGoldrick at the far post.
It took 20 minutes for Arsenal to have a meaningful attempt on Dean Henderson’s goal as Nicolas Pepe’s cross, intended for Alexandre Lacazette, was cleared by Robinson for a corner and chance to apply pressure. An awful initial cross from Joe Willock was cleared, but the game turned on its head as Arsenal picked up the ball and attempted to play the ball to Lacazette on the edge of the penalty area.
Chris Basham challenged the forward from behind and made contact, bringing him down and resulting in an Arsenal penalty. Pepe made no mistake from the spot, placing to Henderson’s bottom-left – the Blades keeper getting caught in the run-up and not committing to either side until too late.
The goal shifted momentum in the game in Arsenal’s favour and they were soon on the attack again with strong interplay between Lacazette and Pepe, the Ivorian’s shot producing a fine save from Henderson, and the home team giving away a succession of fouls, resulting in a yellow card for John Fleck and worse for Lundstrum, who injured his shoulder bringing down Willock and had to be substituted for Sander Berge.
The stop-start nature of the half continued following Lundstrum’s withdrawal as on United’s first attack since the goal, Willock and McBurnie suffered a head-to-head collision on the edge of the Arsenal box. Both were good to continue, but the half fizzled out despite seven minutes of stoppage time – reflecting the disrupted nature of the game.
United made a bright start to the second half with a series of crosses aimed at the 6’2” McBurnie suggesting Wilder’s half-time instructions were to target Arsenal aerially. However, it was a quiet first ten minutes with Henderson of all people going closest in the first ten minutes through a monster goal kick that bounced over Emiliano Martinez’s net.
The linesman’s flag was again the bane of the Blades as John Egan had the ball in the net only to be ruled out again – correctly – for McGoldrick’s offside position as he played the ball through. They went close again moments later, after Robinson put in a brilliant floating cross to Basham within the six yard box, but the defender put his point-blank header wide right.
With ten minutes to go, it looked as if United wouldn’t find the goal they needed to take the game to extra-time. However, a late long throw from Robinson – kryptonite to the Arsenal defence all day – brought United level. Kolasinac’s attempted clearance was blocked by Mustafi and fell right to the feet of McGoldrick, who powered home past Martinez to equalise and set up the prospect of extra-time.
But the day belonged to Arsenal, as they took the chance to counterattack a United team that had overstretched themselves. Pepe had a run into the right side of the penalty area and though he was initially repelled by Enda Stevens, the ball ran to Ceballos who took it at pace and fired home under Henderson to secure Arsenal a semi-final berth.
A tough reward for United who had played better in the second half, but Arsenal proved the better side at taking their chances, and the Blades will now be solely focussed on the remainder of their Premier League campaign.