Three Things We Learned from Arsenal 2 – 1 Leeds
As the season looks to wrap up for 2021-2022 season, Arteta’s young Arsenal side continue to show their growth as they rolled to their fourth straight win. The 2-1 win over visiting Leeds saw the young guns gain an upper hand in the fight for Champions League qualification with three match left to play.
We look back at yesterday’s win and present three key takeaways from the match.
Eddie Nketiah raising his value
It must have been hard for young Eddie Nketiah to sit on the bench for so long knowing if he was given the chance and time, he could prove something to the coaching staff. In fact, prior to his first start in this run, Arteta admitted he had been unfair to the young forward.
That’s in the past as during this run of 4 wins, it has been the young English forward doing what forwards are supposed to do that has the club hoping they get him to sign a new deal this summer.
With his two goals against Leeds Eddie Nketiah now has four goals from open play in the Premier League this season. That’s more than the departed Aubameyang (2) and Lacazette (1).
But its not just the goals. He’s fitting seamlessly in to the system with excellent ability both on and off the ball. He comes in deep into the midfield to offer options to play into the wide forwards or midfielders around him but unlike Lacazette he moves into a new space to help continue the play forward.
He’s also finding space to run the gaps between opposition defenders. Last week against West Ham he may not have scored but he was a standout. As he finished the game with:
- 100% ground duels won (5/5)
- 80% shot accuracy
- 49 touches
- 25 passes completed
- 8 ball recoveries
- 7 duels won
- 6 shots (4 on target)
- 3 attempted take-ons
- 3 successful take-ons
- 2 fouls drawn
- 1 chance created
His four shots on target were as many as Alexandre Lacazette had in his last nine games.
We still don’t know what may become of Eddie. He could very well look to move on and find a club where he could mature into a number 1 striker for a team. For his worth I am not sure that right now he is the transformational forward Arsenal need to compete for bigger honours.
That being said he has shown enough that he definitely deserves a new contract and promise of being the number two guy behind whomever the club bring in as their number 1.
Pepe summed up in one moment
With the clock winding down and Leeds feeling like they could get a result as Arsenal struggled to close out the match, the visitors began to send Meslier up from goal to be part of corners and set pieces.
In one such play, Arsenal successfully won the ball and began a transition to counter with Pepe on the receiving end of the ball in 1v1 situation and an empty goal. What happened next summed up all the frustration with Pepe in one second.
Rather than attempt a shot, he moves to get the ball on to his stronger foot and in doing so moves himself and the ball closer to the defender. The result was a fumbled opportunity and turning the ball over.
It also resulted in a post-match tongue lashing from Albert Stuivenberg. Given the match situation, it was a warranted talking-to, and it probably cements for many the need to move on from the talented player.
Pepe is a very talented player. He is capable of moments of brilliance that make you want to get up out of your seat. He is equally as capable of mind-numbing idiocy that have you screaming at him (either at the Emirates or at the TV.)
The fact is he never seemed like he fit in the Premier League. The defenders he was facing were too smart and too strong for him. Combine that with his inability to keep a ball at his feet and it was a recipe for disaster. And it’s been clear since Arteta arrived, he wasn’t his guy.
Pepe will likely be sold this summer, at a fee lower than what Arsenal paid for him. Though truth be told what Raul paid for him was sheer idiocy as well. Pepe will find a league where Pepe can be Pepe again and I really do wish him well in that regard but this one move that should’ve never been made.
Elneny plays a simple game
In the wake of the match, David Ornstein came out and said the club were thinking of offering Elneny an extension to his contract. For a player who looked all but certain to be gone, it’s an amazing turnaround. It also shows, how Arteta is open to having his mind changed about players.
In the wake of his last loan, the club informed both Elneny and his agent that he wasn’t featuring in their plans. Elneny says he told his club to look for other clubs. His agent told Elneny to get into the Arsenal pre-season which he did and by all reports shone.
Fast forward to today and he is now a big part of why Arsenal have been able to solidify its grip on the Champions League qualification.
While Sambi Lokonga is likely to be ahead of him in the depth chart for the long term, the Belgian midfielder is still struggling to come to terms with the Premier League as a single pivot in Arteta’s system. His removal from the squad is as much about his development as it is about preserving our place in the race for top 4.
Elneny has come in and played alongside Xhaka with Elneny operating as a pivot and doing it effectively. He is finding the space to come into and receive the ball from the Centerbacks or fullbacks and start the movement up field.
In yesterdays match he had the most touches and most passes received for Arsenal and no one lost the ball more infrequently (he only lost it 4 times in forty minutes.) And for those that argue Elneny only plays negative passes – only 10% his passes went backwards while 14.3% went forwards – the rest were primarily out wide – which is consistent with how Arsenal wants to play.
The fact is, he is not a flashy player. He isn’t blessed with any particular skill (except the odd banger mind you) but what he excels at is being simple. He plays the ball to what he sees. If he has the options in front and around him, he will make the pass. If there is no movement or space in front of him, he’ll play it to the safety of the centrbacks. The problem is that simple play isn’t what fans want from the midfield but it is what teams sometimes need as they seek to control a game.
Elneny is never going to be your starter. He may never be your primary back up option, but he’s got the right attitude, the right make up and has shown enough to be a member of the squad. With more football games on the horizon for next season, Arsenal are going to need to rebuild their depth. It may not be done all in one summer, its why signing a player like Elneny to an extension makes perfect sense.
Its easy to bemoan the last 15-20 minutes of the match but to me its yet one other sign that this is still a maturing side. Down to 10 men for most of the match, Leeds players were acting no more than like practice cones to Arsenal. The never pressed or came out of their half.
That gets a little tedious and well, the team (Arsenal) got lazy. And that’s why they paid for it. This young team still has many lessons to learn but all for them will go a long way to improving them for next season.