Arsenal vs Leeds FA Cup – Match Report
Following on from Mikel Arteta’s first victory at the helm of Arsenal against Manchester United, the Gunners faced Leeds in the third round of the FA Cup. The Championship topping side, boasting Marcelo Bielsa as their manager, went into the game against Arsenal with full confidence.
This match analysis will break down the tactics employed by both coached and decipher the game-defining moments.
Both managers named strong line-ups for the clash. Arsenal lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, whilst Leeds played a 4-1-4-1. Emiliano Martinez, who came in for Bernd Leno, was by far one of the standout performers for Arsenal. For Leeds, it was another midfield masterclass from Kalvin Phillip who had a particularly impressive first half. The midfielder completed 30 of his 34 passes and won 79%of his 19 defensive duels in the entirety of the game.
The first half of the match was completely dominated and controlled by Leeds. Leeds had 62% of possession to Arsenal’s 38%, 14 shots at the Arsenal goal with 4 on target, to Arsenal’s 3 shots and 1 on target. Perhaps the most damming statistic was Arsenal’s passes per defensive action (PPDA). In the first half Arsenal allowed Leeds 23.3 passes before engaging them with a defensive action of some kind. Leeds could just pass the ball around the pitch with purpose and poise. Arsenal weren’t able to get remotely close to their man or the ball. In typical Bielsa style, Leeds pressed with vigour and determination as their PPDA was 5.9. This all resulted in Leeds cultivating a high 0.84 expected goals in the first half, whilst Arsenal had a lowly 0.20. Leeds did everything but score.
Arsenal came out in the second half with menace and purpose. Arsenal pressed with aggression and determination. They reduced the 23.3 PPDA, to 3. A remarkable 20.3 passes were cut out before Arsenal met with the ball. Arsenal increased their possession from 38% to 55% and took a greater foothold on the game. In the first half, symptomatic of the small share of ball possession, Arsenal only created 0.15 attacks per minute. However, in the second half, they could sustain their pressure and had 0.55 attacks per minute. Arsenal had an additional 12 shots in the second half, with 3 on target. They managed to reduce Leeds output to 3 shots with only 1 coming on target. In the second half, Arsenal also managed to iron out a majority of their errors on the ball. In the first half, the lost the ball 7 times leading to a Leeds shot.
In the first half, it became increasingly apparent that Leeds wanted to jump press and attack Arsenal when they had the ball centrally. Once they won the ball back, they then aimed to move the ball out wide. They would attack the space in behind Sokratis and Kolasinac or behind the Arsenal midfield. This was extremely effective given the lack of pace from Sokratis and Kolasinac. 53% of Arsenal’s ball losses were in the middle third of the pitch with 31% coming in their own final third of the pitch. This reinforces Bielsa’s desire to press and kill the midfield space.
What Mikel Changed
In the second half, amongst the instructions to his team to press with greater intensity and aggression, Arteta also focused on creating numerical superiority out wide and up against the Leeds full-backs. Mikel would have seen that to create space centrally he had to drag and exploit the space out wide and therefore drag Leeds players out of midfield by creating overloads out wide. This would in the process help give time and space to the likes of Mesut Ozil when the ball was then played back into the central zones.
As you can see from the image above, Arsenal aimed to attack through the left side of the pitch. They would support the player there with Kolasinac and Xhaka. Lacazette would look to take care of Ben White in the centre-back position. The rest of the Arsenal team would prepare for the ball to come back through midfield once Leeds had been pulled out of position. They also looked to prepare for losing the ball by aggressively counter-pressing, but also bracing themselves for a big switch in play. 71% of Arsenal’s attacking play came through the left wing, whilst Leeds also attempted to attack down the left with 56% of their attacks.
In conclusion, we could have been talking about his game in a completely different context, had Leeds taken their chances. Mikel Arteta changed the game by making his team more aggressive and encouraging them to press higher and harder. Shortly after the break, Arsenal’s undoubted quality told. The first meaningful impact in the game form Pepe as he used his strength and skill to turn and play in Lacazette. Lacazette’s cross deflected and found Nelson. Nelson scored his second goal of the season and Arsenal progress. Arteta should get a lot of praise with how he changed the team in the second half. He both improved them tactically and mentally, yet it was worrying to see how Arsenal kicked off – it so could have easily been same old Arsenal.