This is going to be really tough today. A lot tougher than I think I thought it would be, actually, because Leeds will want to come at us and hit us hard and fast and we need to be ready.
They have had a week off to prepare for our arrival. They will have spent the week smarting after losing away to Crystal Palace. I watched only the first part of that game – about 30 minutes – and they were superb for that 30 minutes. I was almost shocked when I learned that Palace had turned it around because Leeds had gone at them early, won the ball higher up the pitch, forced Palace in to making errors and when they went one up it was fully deserved. I thought Aaronson looked like a very impressive, tricky, clever player with the ball at his feet and I also thought Tyler Adams looked good in midfield. Leeds will cause our defence problems today and we have to hop that we’re up for it.
We have to be up for it, because with their home fans sure to be in good voice, with their need to start picking up points and with the way they play with their high intensity approach, I am worried that our midweek travel duties will potentially mean it could be a sluggish start/performance from the lads. It’s true we didn’t give full minutes to all of those players likely to start today, but most of the team still travelled and so you have the travelling there, travelling back, coming back on Friday, disruption to the usual training sessions, etc – all has an impact when trying to concoct your game plan and given Leeds are a totally different prospect to Liverpool, you can’t just apply the same approach as we did at home to the Scousers. An alternative needs to be found and Arteta and his coaching staff will not have had a lot of time to bed in that alternate approach for the game.
For example, Luis Sinisterria is a good player and will of course be a danger to us, but I doubt Tomiyasu will be keeping his place on the left of defence because he is a different player to Salah. Salah is a left footer who does damage by drifting in and that’s why Arteta selected him, specifically for that game, but for today it surely has to be Tierney who is given the nod, assuming Zinchenko is still out. Sinsiterra will be more likely to drift about the place, but being a right footer will probably also be more happy to go down the line and therefore it should naturally suit a left footer like KT to defend against, so that’s what I’d be advocating today.
So if I’m trying to pick today’s line up based on what I think Arteta will do, I’m going for:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tierney
Odegaard – Xhaka
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli
If that’s the team that was picked you’re looking at a side whose minutes were managed in midweek. Partey came on in injury time, White came off after 70 minutes, Odegaard came off on 70 minutes, Martinelli got 30 minutes at the end, along with Granit Xhaka, who came on for Saka and so Saka only played 60 minutes. Ramsdale, Gabriel and Jesus were the only players who didn’t get any minutes and from that line up only Tierney and Saliba could be those that start today, unless Zinchenko is passed fit. We don’t have any update on Zinny and given he hasn’t played in a while I suspect that means it’ll be KT taking to the field. If he does start Tomiyasu at left back though, I wonder what that says to Tierney about his long term future? He won’t want to just be understudy to two players for the season and I get that Tomi needs minutes and was excellent against Liverpool, but as Tierney explained in a Sky Sports interview this week, he was told by the manager that it was tactical for that game. If that stretches in to multiple games then it doesn’t become tactical and becomes a form question, which is why I am wondering what Mikel does today.
Leeds may be on a bad run of form at the moment, but they still haven’t lost at home this season, which gives you an idea of the challenge we have today. If this was a home game I’d be pretty confident we’d get the job done against a side that is yet to win away and has only picked up one point on their travels all season. But their home form is two wins, two draws, six goals scored and just two goals conceded all season at Elland Road. They are a hard tackling, high-intensity team whose expected goals against their opponents is the eighth best in the league. Given that they sit in 15th right now it shows that they don’t give up a lot of chances and I think that might be the case today.
What we’ve not been good at is avoiding transition chances and goals. At times this season it has seemed like transition opportunities or silly mistakes is where we’ve conceded. I think back to the Saliba own goal against Leicester, or the Douglas Luiz goal from the corner, or the first goal Liverpool scored last week with a long ball that Gabriel just swung a boot at and missed; a lot of our goals feel avoidable and so I hope we can avoid any silly mistakes today.
We’re playing well at the moment, we’re picking up points and we are looking good and we will get chances today, but we will need to be on it to make sure we take those chances when presented with them. Last season we did against an admittedly injury-hit Leeds side, but this version of Leeds is more in Marsch’s image than Bielsa’s, so it will be a totally different challenge we face.
We know the prize on offer; a win will put us four clear of City before they’ve kicked a ball. But we have to make sure we show up and give the best version of Arsenal. If we get that come 2pm, then we can be winners today. If we don’t, we could have our noses bloodied a bit.
Catch you all tomorrow.