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Post Match Review

Three Things We Learned from Arsenal 1 – 0 Leeds United


Leeds came to the Emirates Stadium in the third round of the FA Cup and early on showed that they will be a team to be reckoned with if they get promoted to the Premier League. However, it was the Gunners who’s solid second half, saw them end the night as 1-0 winners against the Championship side.

It wasn’t pretty, especially in the first half, but it was the second win in a row for new head coach Mikel Arteta and continues to show he’s got them on the right course.

Here is this matches edition of – three things we learned.

Mikel Arteta is the Coach Emery Could Never Be.

 Being a football coach/trainer/manager means being equal parts father, brother, tactician, friend, good guy, bad guy, cheerleader and more. After their first-half display on Monday night, Arteta left no confusion about where he was with his new team:

“When I see what I don’t want to see – and I’m not talking about technically or tactically – what I expect from them and the standards that we want to set in certain areas, I cannot be happy and I have to let them know.

It’s clear from post-match comments from some of his players that the head coach had prepared his team for what to expect from the visitors. It’s also clear that Arsenal failed to deliver on that preparation and it was evident that Arteta wasn’t happy with the team’s first-half display.

Going into half time the home side were outpossessed 63% to 37% and were outshot 15 (5) to 3 (1). Arteta knew that his side needed to come to compete because Leeds would.

“The way they play makes it very difficult and uncomfortable. Everything is man-to-man across the pitch so it becomes a transition game. Everything is duels and 50/50s. If you’re not ready for that game, you’ll get exposed and get done. Obviously the second half was a different story.”

Now, in the past a match like this, Unai Emery would’ve come back from half time and made a change. Most likely in personnel. It was for most observers a tacit admission that he had gotten it wrong tactically and needed to adjust.

The problem was it almost never worked. It didn’t fix the structure or the mindset of the team and often resulted in a negative result for Emery’s Arsenal

For Arteta there would be no second-guessing.

Arteta went into the dressing room at half time and based on comments from Alexandre Lacazette gave his charges a rollicking for their lacklustre, lifeless performance.

The new Arsenal head coach is an articulate man who will build buy-in from many players. He is firm when he needs to be and praises when it’s warranted.

Coming out of the second half, Arteta stuck with his 4-2-3-1 shape and the personnel he started the match with. The message was clear, this wasn’t about his tactics or his set up, it was about the players’ approach.

The team came out with a fire under their belly and went from losing every 50/50 ball to winning more and more. The line of confrontation was moved 10 yards further up into the opposition half and runs off the ball were more committed than they were in the first half.

The net turn around was Arsenal dominating the half with 13 (4) shots to 3 (1) and significantly closing the possession gap ending the match with 41% to 59% (Arsenal held 48% possession in the second half.)

More importantly, the Arsenal ended up with the only goal of the match off Reiss Nelson’s flubbed shot. And they closed the night off with a win and advancing to the next round.

In his short week’s at Arsenal it seems Arteta is succeeding in every way that Emery failed to. He sees adjustments that needs to be made and he makes them without sacrificing his philosophy of play. He’s getting the best out of players by putting them into positions to succeed.

He’s got the team believing in themselves again and even on a night when it’s not working, he gets them to dig down deep, turn it around and secure the win. None of that would’ve happened under the tenure of Unai Emery.

Pepe Starting to Come to Life.

Tim Stillman (@sillberto) noted after the match “that wen a team presses as well as Leeds there’s only two ways through – quick one-touch football or dribble through it.”

In the build up to Nelson’s goal it is this ability to “dribble through it” from Pepe that ultimately led to us breaking the deadlock. Even after getting knocked to the ground he’s able to get up run into space and create the pass that led to the cross leading to the goal.

He did this multiple times tonight and especially in the second half it was a constant threat that kept the pressure on Leeds.

This evening he was the top Arsenal player with 5 dribbles won on 9 attempts.

Pepe never seemed to get a chance under Emery and even in Arteta’s first days, there were signals that his work rate wasn’t quite right.

But against United, Arteta showed his growing trust in the player and started him, along with Aubameyang, Lacazette and Özil. He paid off the head coach’s trust with a goal and could’ve had another on a lovely shot that dinged off the far post.

Against Leeds he got the nod to start again and didn’t disappoint. The only real threatening move Arsenal could muster in the first half was from a run by Pepe where the defender gave him that half-yard, he needs to get a shot away and he almost made them pay for it.

Pepe early has been called, mostly by opposition supporters though some of our fans have said the same, a flop. He hasn’t delivered the goods. It overlooks that sometimes players coming into the league need time to adapt.  Of course, some don’t but most do and Pepe is one of those players.

It seems that he is slowing gaining the trust of Mikel Arteta and because of that his confidence is growing. If his confidence continues to grow and he continues to listen to the man who is credited with making Raheem Sterling one of the top 5 players in England – then Pepe is going to be widely successful at Arsenal. And we may just be seeing the first fruits of that.

A tale of two halves for Matteo Guendouzi

Matteo Guendouzi is an enigma wrapped in an enigma, wrapped into one of his curls. He is obviously a talented young player, with a drive that puts many older professionals to shame.

However, for what he has in determination and drive, he lacks positional awareness, especially off the ball. Tonight, with Leeds controlling the first half, Guendouzi was his frustrating self. He chased the midfield rather than read it. He was reacting (often late to play) and the midfield was getting overrun repeatedly.

Switch gears to the second half and whatever it was Arteta told him but Guendouzi seemed to take it into stride and begin to dominate play.

He took away the midfield from Leeds and was winning balls higher up the field both on the ground and in the air and those wins were creating transitions to attack deep into the opposition final third.

In the second half he had:

  • 18 – completed pass, leading all players
  • 94.7% – pass completion percentage (second among all players)
  • 2 – passes into the box completed (tied third among all players)
  • 1 – tackle
  • 0 – dribbled past
  • 2 – interceptions (second among all players)
  • 2 – aerial duels won (second among all players)
  • 7 – ball recoveries, leading all players
  • 3 – successful dribbles, tied for most among all players

Stats courtesy @oh_that_crab (Scott Willis)

Whatever it was Arteta said to the young Frenchman, it stuck and he was instrumental in Arsenal turning the match around and ultimately getting the win. More performances like this and he can likely expect to go from role player to starter.

Extra Time

It’s very likely that Leeds United will be playing in the Premier League next season. This is a team that was a joy to watch play, especially in the first half. The move of the ball from back to front, finding the open space and opening up Arsenal was exquisite.

Their pressing would make Klopp envious. Bielsa has done an amazing job with them and should they win promotion to the Premier League, you can see them causing a lot of the big teams problems.

For Bielsa though, he’ll need to learn the lesson Klopp has learned and that’s how to manage the intensity of his press over the course of the game and the season. That lesson has resulted in Klopp’s team not fading and managing the season better than previously.

Either way, fair play to Leeds, they could’ve focused on their promotion tilt, but they came to the Emirates to play and they made a scintillating match of it.

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