With 4 wins and 4 losses, Arsenal didn’t start the season particularly well, while it is clear that no Premier League team can take Leeds United lightly. Arsenal needed to win this and more importantly, score goals. Arsenal has been criticized for lacking creativity and haven’t created enough chances this season.
Leeds United lost their last 2 games conceding 4 goals in each game. These stats would have represented an average team, but you can expect the unexpected with this Leeds United side. That is the toughest part of playing them under Marcelo Bielsa.
The game was scrappy at the start, with Dani Ceballos misplacing simple passes twice in the first 7 minutes notably. Arsenal settled into their game plan first and start to control the midfield. As soon as Arsenal entered the final third, the combination play between Aubameyang, Pepe, Willock, and Willian was missing.
Leeds United always had enough numbers in the defense to deal with any Arsenal attack. Leeds United slowly came back in the game and ended the first half stronger. They had better and more meaningful possession and had shots on goal.
Arsenal had brought on Nelson to replace Willian at half-time clearly with a plan to aide attacking moments. But the second half was spoiled for Arsenal by Nicholas Pepe’s action that led to him being sent off.
Leeds United, with a man’s advantage, dominated the possession and created chances to win the game. They even hit the post twice in the last 10 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Arsenal created 3 good chances on the counter in the second half, but it wasn’t to be for both sides.
Arsenal changed their formation from 5-2-3 to 4-2-3-1, handing a first start to Joe Willock in the number 10 position. Nicholas Pepe also featured in the starting lineup for Arsenal with Aubameyang and Willian upfront.
Leeds United handed Raphinha his first start of the season. Interestingly, Elioski played at left-back for Leeds United and Dallas started in the midfield alongside Phillips and Klich.
In this tactical analysis of the game between Leeds United and Arsenal, we will take a look at Leeds United’s attacking moments and the missing of quality in the final third for Arsenal. In this analysis, we will also review the tactics of Arsenal’s defensive shape after the red card incident.
Leeds United – keeping moving forward
To find a pattern in Leeds United’s gameplay is not easy. The match eventually becomes a game of basketball where actions are all over the pitch. When Leeds United attack from the wings, they are the most dangerous.
Here we see that Harrison and Alioski are both being well tracked by Pepe and Bellerin respectively. While Alioski makes a perfect run from outside to inside, difficult for Bellerin to defend, Harrison plays a perfect ball into his path. Apart from Bellerin and Pepe, the dilemma for Rob Holding is either to get closer to play or maintain a more central position.
All the chances Leeds United created were from wide moments. They combine well in the final third from the wide positions and look to exploit empty spaces in the penalty area for the third man to run into. As the game progressed, we saw Rob Holding move closer to the play, while Granit Xhaka covered him centrally. Leeds United created 90% of their chances from their right and only 10% from their left.
Leeds United players are either moving towards the ball or towards the goal. This positivity in the game is very refreshing to watch. Leeds United players always find a way out in tight situations. They often move the ball around with just one-touch or two-touches. As soon as they make a pass, they do not hold their position. They either move into spaces towards the goal, dragging the opponent away from the ball. At the same time, the player in possession has more space and eventually time to get out of the tight situation, as seen above.
Arsenal’s positional maturity
Arsenal was able to get a point in this game only because of their defensive shape during the game, especially after going a man down. They frustrated Leeds United for 20 minutes after the red card by defending deeper with solid positional awareness.
One of the features of Arsenal under Mikel Arteta is the positioning of Xhaka and Ceballos. They have very good discipline to stay close to the center backs and intercept any counter-attacking moments through the central areas.
In the tactical switch following the red card, they were within 5 yards of Gabriel and Holding. On the flanks, Nelson and Saka were defending alongside Bellerin and Tierney, instead of in front of them. Their hard work and positional maturity was the highlight of the second half.
This is a transition moment, where Leeds United has misplaced a pass to an Arsenal player. We can see how Arsenal pressed high with a 4-2-4 formation forcing Leeds United into a bad pass. The rest of the Arsenal team had maintained their defensive positions well, with a two-man midfield closer to the defensive line. After winning the ball back from this moment, Arsenal launched a counter-attack that led to a very good chance for the ex-Borussia Dortmund player, Aubameyang.
Bukayo Saka – a catalyst
Anyone who has seen Bukayo Saka play can how talented is he as a footballer. What makes him special is his application of talent and decision making. By no means has he reached top-level yet, but he has shown signs of it game after game.
He came on as a substitute on the left flank for Arsenal after Pepe was sent off. This was not going to be a game where his average position would be higher on the pitch. And he was aware of his defensive responsibilities needed for his game. Once again he showed an exceptional understanding of the game situation.
But it is his ability in attacking moments that make him special as a player. He combined well with Aubameyang to create 2 good chances in the second half. But it was this run behind the Leeds United defense for the perfect pass from Bellerin that makes you take notice of his special talent. It was evident that he is a catalyst that gets everyone ticking around him.
With almost a fully fit squad, Mikel Arteta must know his best starting XI and he must give them a few games together without any squad rotation unless forced upon. This will not only give the starting XI a chance to get back some confidence but also help lift the spirits in the squad. The lack of goals is not down to the personnel, but due to a lack of coordination amongst attacking players.
As for Leeds United, they would have seen this as a missed opportunity to get more out of the game. Clean sheets would have pleased them considering the last goals they had conceded. In the end, they only needed a goal to win this game.