Sheffield Utd 1 Arsenal 0: Nade leaves Arsenal battered and bruised

French forward exposes fragility of Gunners as Blades survive injury to their goalkeeper
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The Independent Football

If sheer will to survive has anything to do with it, Sheffield United will not be among the sides relegated from the Premiership this season. Just as the holiday season appeared to be unfolding in a manner that would undo much of the progress made immediately before it, Neil Warnock's side produced another mighty heave to lift themselves away from the bottom three.

Warnock, the fan who became manager, called it his "best night in seven years in charge, maybe even in my whole career", and the response he drew from a 32,000 crowd as he urged them to raise the volume in the final moments was indeed something to stir the soul. "It was like an old-fashioned English cup tie in which both sides gave everything," Arsène Wenger commented, reflecting on defeat in a way that would have sounded almost magnanimous had he not taken the opportunity to accuse United's captain, Chris Morgan, of punching Robin van Persie in the stomach, although television pictures of the alleged punch proved inconclusive.

The result is another major blow to a depleted Arsenal's hopes of closing the yawning gap between themselves and the front-runners in the race for the title. It was United's young French striker, Christian Nade, who scored the decisive goal but there were heroics all over the field for Warnock to enthuse about. Those include his back four, for their collective determination to protect that precious lead, as well as the tireless Alan Quinn in midfield and the unflappable Phil Jagielka, who swapped his outfield duties to keep goal for 35 minutes after Paddy Kenny was injured.

Arsenal had started strongly, Tomas Rosicky forcing Kenny into an early test of his shot-stopping qualities and Gilberto Silva sending a header bouncing over the bar from a corner. Kenny later thwarted Jérémie Aliadière with another flying leap.

Yet on a rainswept night in which robust defending - from both sides - always suggested a match of few opportunities, it was United who found the way to score five minutes before half-time and there was certainly a muscular element to the goal.

As an Arsenal attack broke down, the home side countered quickly and when Kolo Touré found himself the last line of defence against Nade it was the bustling United man who prevailed, steering the ball past the advancing Jens Lehmann for his first Premiership goal.

After that, though Arsenal at least competed, it was Warnock's team who had the greater character, particularly when Kenny had to give way 15 minutes into the second half after sustaining a leg injury. Warnock habitually names a bench without a reserve goalkeeper.

The enforced change was the cue for Arsenal to push forward but for all the intricacies of their approach work they were too often not quick enough, strong enough or accurate enough when it mattered to put Jagielka under the kind of pressure he might have expected to face.

He seldom hinted at insecurity and the save with which he kept out a deflected shot by Van Persie in the closing moments would have been satisfying for the man he had replaced.