Match Preview: Leeds Relentless Attack Presents Problem for In Form Arsenal
Arsenal are set to resume their quest to qualify for Europe but this time they leave the confines of the Emirates and head to Elland Road where they take on the decimated squad that is Leeds United. With many other games facing cancellations, Leeds and Arsenal are still set to square off even with the host squad beset by a rash of injuries and suspensions.
Arsenal head to Elland Road coming off perhaps their most complete performance this season if not in the entirety of Mikel Arteta’s reign. Front to back and in all facets of the midweek tie versus West Ham, Arsenal were solid.
Defensively the Gunners continued their impressive form at home, securing their fifth clean sheet in a row at the Emirates taking their average goals conceded per match down to a miserly 0.67 per match at home and 1.29 overall.
The road however as generous or kind to the visitors where they have managed to only score a paltry 6 goals (0.75 per game) and conceded 16 (2.00 per game.) If Arsenal are to solidify their status as challengers for Champions League the road form has to improve and it has to improve this weekend.
Without a doubt one of the geniuses of the modern game is the Leeds Manager, Marcelo Bielsa. The trademark of his team is their fluid attacking style with lots of energy. Additionally, at least this season they are side unable to keep the goal out of the back of their own net.
The best way to attack Leeds is to find ways to exploit their man-oriented defending. Against City, they repeatedly got pulled out of position by the precision of Pep’s tiki taka style of play. City looked to exploit the space created as a defender would look to apply pressure to the man they were supposed to be defending.
In a few instances in both the City match and against Brentford (2-2) Leeds are often caught reacting late or to be less kind ball watching. And no matter what game you watch of Leeds its always the same deficiency in their play that makes them susceptible to the attack. In the end, their lack of improvement defensively means that a team that can effectively get the ball moving against them will see a significant amount of chances created.
There are many different ways to describe Bielsa’s attacking style – frenetic, gung ho, – pick your adjective. However, the beauty is in the system that uses a 4-1-4-1 shape to create triangles all over the pitch.
As Leeds look to build play they look to use small triangles to progress the ball which is set up to exploit the play-forward-run-forward style of play that is the trademark of Bielsa’s philosophy. What you typically see is the first pass sees an opposition defender drawn in so that the second pass can be played to the third man in the triangle with the second man working off the back off the opponent. Leed’s forwards tend to get real wide on the pitch as they try to create space for their intricate play to happen.
Arsenal’s defenders will have to be at their defensive best in terms of watching runs through the middle. Leeds like to cross the ball and they cross it with a purpose. What we mean is that while they lack height they are angling the crosses into the box in a way that if the forward is making a smart run, they will latch on to it.
Against City, Leeds struggled with the intensity of City’s press. Sticking to their desire to play out of the back, City was able to pen Leeds in. Their intent was to force play to one side of the pitch and contain Leeds.
Against West Ham, Southampton and West Ham while not used often, when activated Arsenal’s press successfully created turn overs the Gunners saw some success in exploiting.
Against West Ham, Arsenal were able to exploit one side of the pitch, the right with the effectiveness of Saka in 1v1 duels supported by Tomiyasu tucked in or behind and Odegaard in the half space. When they were able to win the ball deep in the final third, they were able to create quality chances.
Leeds struggle with the press. Against City this resulted in them opting to play more direct. One of the marked improvements at Arsenal is the overall structure of their defensive unit. You rarely don’t see them pulled out of position by play and if they can force Leeds into more direct play, Gabriel and White seem more than equipped to handle James up top.
Additionally, another possible route of attack for Arsenal could be in a quick transition play looking to bypass the midfield and get into running duels for our wingers. Something we did to effect last week.
Regardless, Arsenal need to come out avoiding the inconsistency that has plagued them all year. They need to come out with another commitment to play. Attacking with movement and defending with a focus on denying Leeds the space they want to play their style of play.
Even a team in disarray can pose problems and the fact Leeds only have 9 senior players available shouldn’t make us feel comfortable. Arsenal have shown a propensity for being their own worst enemy. However, you can only play the team in front of you and Arsenal shouldn’t come out with anything than a hungry desire to keep hold of their top 4 spot.
It does feel like Arsenal are turning a corner and they have every right to believe they can come to Elland Road and take all 3 points. Performances like the last two should show them they have the ability to do so. Now they just need to execute.
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
The last two performances have been really good in terms of what we want to achieve in matches, the results we have got and the way we have dominated those games. But we need to be consistent in that over 10 months to achieve the goals that we want, which is to be the best and we are not there yet
Arsenal Record vs Opponent (league only)
13W 8L 5D
Goals Scored (season average)
Arsenal (away) 0.75
Leeds (home) 1.13
Goals Conceded (season average)
Arsenal (away) 2.00
Leeds (home) 1.38
xG (via Wyscout)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: Eddie Smart, Scott Ledger
Fourth official: John Brooks
VAR: Michael Oliver
Assistant VAR: Sian Massey-Ellis
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Leeds United are winless in 10 matches against Arsenal in all competitions since a 3-2 Premier League victory at Highbury in May 2003 (D2, L8).
- The two sides met at Emirates Stadium in the League Cup fourth round eight weeks ago, with Arsenal winning 2-0.
- Leeds have not scored more than once at home to the Gunners in 13 attempts since a 2-1 league win on 18 December 1993.
- Arsenal will start a match in the Premier League’s top four for the first time since October last year.
- Nine victories from 19 away league fixtures in 2021 is their best tally in a calendar year since 2015, when they won 12 times on the road.
- However, they could lose four successive Premier League away games for the first time since a club record run of seven from January to May 2018.
- Emile Smith Rowe has scored in five of his past seven league appearances.
- Ben White played in all 46 league matches of Leeds’ Championship title-winning season in 2019-20 while on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion.
Editor note: Special thanks to Rasmus Pabst (@gamingpabst) who helped with the scouting of West Ham for this piece