Arsenal 4 (Aubameyang 13, 41 pen, 47, Bellerin 45) Leeds Utd 2 ( Struijk 58, Costa 69)
Phew! Pick the bones out of that one! I always expected Leeds would lose this game; hoped we wouldn’t obviously but felt the team changes, playing in London, Arsenal needing a result, all pointed to it being a very difficult trip. As it happens, the manner of the defeat no one would have possibly imagined! And, by the end, we’d at least shown that actually, we can hold our own with the likes of Arsenal. We pushed them all the way and with a strong penalty shout ignored by the officials, it could have been even closer. We just never get the rub of the green in London albeit, like today, we often haven’t helped ourselves either.
Fundamentally we started looking half asleep for some reason; it may have been that Bielsa again opted to move his personnel around rather than slot say Shackleton straight into where Phillips would have been. Hence Struijk, Ayling and Shackleton all had to settle into their altered roles and surely that takes time, especially since it appears it was touch and go this week whether Phillips might have been fit. We’ve since learned that Matty Klich wasn’t 100% either; something’s obviously not been right for a few weeks with him, perhaps explaining why he was being used sparingly. Anyway, whatever the reason, we started badly and made defensive mistakes that, at this level will always be punished. Meslier cannot escape criticism for his performance in that first half – he’s young and he’s been magnificent for us this season but today was a bad day for him. He’ll get over it I’m sure, but he needs to learn and with this dawdling over his distribution and sometimes the distribution itself, he needs to sort it as it’s been there all season if rarely punished as it was today. We’d have caned Kiko if he’d been beaten at his near post like that but, Meslier has shown how good he is and he’s still developing… Kiko should know better!
At 4 – 0 down so early in the second half, I’m sure many fans were worried this would turn into an embarrassing rout but, with typical Leeds back to the walls fighting spirit and with the inner belief these players have, we went on to win the second half 2 – 1 and with that penalty award it should have been more. Incredibly we also bossed the overall possession and had a terrific percentage of our goal attempts on target too. It wasn't all bad today!
I’m not even sure the Bielsa substitutions made too much difference, it looked to me more like we just started playing our natural game again although where it was first half I’m not sure. Leeds will always play as if ignoring the score, as if ignoring all that has gone before in the game. It’s as if we just continually reset and go again whether we are leading or losing and so it was today.
The sight of that Pascal Struijk header flying in the net was delightful! The lad has shown he’s a danger at set pieces for us and maybe, whisper it quietly, we do now have a weapon in those situations. The player himself continues to grow and for me was the man of the match for Leeds even though he lost Aubameyang for the 4th Arsenal goal. Then we finally saw some Bielsaball as Tyler Roberts showed he still has something to offer, getting behind the Gunners defence to set up Costa for a typical Costa strike that reminded us what he’s got in his locker too. Had that Patrick Bamford sandwich been given as a penalty, which most of the pundits thought it was, then the outcome could still have been very different.
So, actually, by the final whistle I wasn’t too disheartened, there was still plenty to admire from Leeds once we started to play the way we know we can. The first half was a nightmare though and we need to learn some lessons from that but I don’t think we are anywhere near as bad as we looked first half and, incidentally, I don’t think Arsenal are actually as good as we made them look. We move on to a Friday night at Molineux and, you know what, I think we can win that one!
Arsenal Leeds United
Possession 46% 54%
Shots 13 9
On Target 5 5
Corners 4 5
Fouls Committed 8 17