Arsenal vs Leeds: A Product of Careful Analysis Or A Risky Adventure by Balogun Rilwan
After Pierre Emerick Aubameyang delivered a hat-trick and a masterclass to put Leeds United to the sword, popular football commentator Jon Champion described Marcelo Bielsa’s team as “an intoxicating mix of the irrepressible, irresistible and irresponsible”.
Should Mikel Arteta’s rather bold call on Sunday be taken into consideration, he latched on maximally to the irresponsibility of a truly irrepressible Leeds team.
Bielsa’s teams are never known to sit back and the Argentine has instilled his attacking expectations into his players. It is why many managers, including Arteta respect him in the world of football.
Arsenal fans went wild in joy when the lineup was released against Leeds. It was an answer to the calls on Arteta to nurture some cojones.
One of the clearest examples of Arteta’s impacts as Arsenal manager is his great improvement of the defence. In 24 games, Arsenal have conceded 25 goals, the third best in the division but on the other end of the pitch, the wells have been dry, with 31 goals scored in 24 games.
Prior to the game against Arsenal, Leeds had scored 40 goals, thirteen more than Arsenal who had scored just 27 before Sunday. Where the difference lied was in the defence where Leeds had raked in 38 goals, fifteen more than Arsenal.
Leeds have one of the best attacks in the Premier League. After twenty three round of games, they have scored the fourth highest number of goals (42) in the league, only behind City, Liverpool and Manchester United. In a sharp contrast, they also have the joint-second worst defensive record with Crystal Palace and have conceded only less than West Brom only.
Arteta’s decision to sit Alexandre Lacazette who has had a decent shift this season, and also drop Pepe, who in the last two games impressed on the left wing, was a bold call. When one factors in Aubameyang’s recent struggles, it becomes an even greater, yet creditable risk.
The choice of pairing Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith-Rowe, as interesting as it looks, also hinged on the better side of a risky venture. While Smith Rowe’s inventiveness, which has seen him record the highest assists in the Premier League in 2021, is creditable, Odegaard, many expected would wait for longer before his full bow.
The Norwegian showed flashes of his inherent qualities – timeliness, invention and creativity.
A bold move by Arteta saw Arsenal tear Leeds into shreds and contained their attacking forays well enough until the team switched off partially in the second half. Leeds also showed their attacking quality again, as they aimed to stage a comeback with two quickfire goals, in what typified their irresistible nature.
Arteta read Bielsa well, and analysed Leeds’ weaknesses brilliantly. By presenting a superior attacking side, he also did enough to neutralise their attacking threats. It was a complete opposite of what went down at Elland Road last year where Arsenal waited to catch Leeds on the break before a stupid Pepe red ensured Arsenal got a draw by the skin of their teeth.
Against another team, in different circumstances, Arteta’s very attacking setup on Sunday may have been a risky adventure, but it carried the day.
Do you expect more of that? I do!
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