Leeds United 0
Arsenal 1 ( Saka 35)
16th October 2022, Premier League.
Oh Leeds, Leeds, Leeds! Why do you put us through hell like this? Leeds seem to have spent years being far more successful at shooting themselves in the foot than shooting at goal! Once again today was a story of a terrific performance undone by momentary lapses in quality, at both ends of the pitch, well, and in the middle on one occasion!
Leeds had established a good foothold in this game against one of the best teams in the country. We were pressing at a ferocious pace and, but for the lack of one of those moments of quality, ought to have scored when the ball dropped in the Arsenal six-yard area from an early corner; we just were not sharp enough to pounce.
All was looking good and then Rodrigo, inexplicably, decided it was time to attempt an outrageous hooked pass across almost the width of the pitch! Why? There was no need, we were solidly in the game. But do it he did, and as the crowd gasped Pascal Struijk was undone by the surprise arrival and the bounce of the ball as the quick-witted Saka immediately knew what to do. He knocked the ball inside to Odegaard, ran behind the now-stranded Leeds defence and Odegaard slid a perfect return ball through to him again. It was the sort of quality from Odegaard that the best teams in the Premier League have in Spades and then Saka showed us more of it as he hit a sublime shot past Meslier into the roof of the net. In the blink of an eye, the Gunners had shot us down. At the end of the day, I guess it’s these bits of quality that you only get once you are established at the top table and have the sort of money it takes to buy it!
There was a moment towards the end of the first half when Rodrigo, who was by general agreement of the fans having a ‘mare of a game, gave the ball away again in the southwest corner and Jesse Marsch immediately turned to Patrick Bamford to tell him to get ready; it looked like Jesse’s patience with the Spaniard had run out!
As expected, Bamford started the second half and I guess we have to acknowledge that, since that was the only early change, it must have had something to do with the fact that Leeds upped their game even more after the break. In fact, Leeds dominated the game from that point and played some superb quick, impactful football; all that was missing was that spark of quality on the box.
For once, VAR gave us the chance of a goal when it spotted a handball that seemed to have passed referee Chris Kavanagh by. Penalty it was and we were all grateful for that long wait to get it working in the first place! Patrick Bamford tucked the ball under his arm and prepared to take the kick.
I have a problem with that; since his return to the team, in the admittedly short spells he’s had, he has clearly been way off the pace in terms of sharpness in front of goal. We can all think of numerous occasions we’ve been in this situation in the past – a player short of confidence who’s been missing chances in open play is allowed to take a spot kick and, almost inevitably he misses! In hindsight, this was so predictable. I know it’s a balance, between taking an opportunity to “give” a striker a confidence-boosting goal, and, alternatively keeping him out of the limelight until he’s fully ready but I’m not sure we got this right. Bamford is nowhere near ready, but he took the kick anyway, missed the target completely, and Leeds had thrown away a point. By the way, he grabbed the ball when we thought we had been reprieved with a second later penalty that was given by the ref (but then overturned), he is not short of ‘balls’ clearly, but for me that too would have been a mistake. I know Rodrigo was off the pitch but any player other than Paddy should have taken that first one. Give it to a man in form with a clear head!
We had other chances to draw level of course, but the best of them, when Crysencio was put through, was again missed; he may one day have the quality of finish of a Saka, but he hasn’t yet.
So, ultimately this was another typical day in the Leeds United office, dominant play in two-thirds of the pitch, but woefully weak up front and undone, ultimately by a stupid rush of blood to the head.
How important Paddy was in that second-half performance is now crucial to understand, because if it was his presence that galvanised and created that performance then we have to persist with him at Leicester from the start and keep our fingers crossed that he will suddenly find the Midas touch. We saw in that hat trick he banged in for the U21s recently that he has the technical prowess. But is it a coincidence that his best spell for us was in a season with no crowd and that he can shoot like Ronaldo for the U21s in front of a limited crowd? I don’t know the answer but we cannot continue to miss chances like we did today and we may yet have to see if the answer to our lack of clinical finishing lies with any of the young lions; we were so dominant today that it seemed to be a situation perfectly suited to having a Johnny on the Spot like Joffy on the pitch. He got five minutes at the end which seems to me to help no one. Look at the stats, we only hit the target four times from 16 attempts while Arsenal also hit the target four times from only 9!
The good news was that second-half performance; surely if we can repeat that on Thursday then we can hunt down the Foxes…can’t we? We have to, or the pressure on the players and staff will start to create more problems for us. Tricky times… aren’t they ever so?
Possession 46% 54%
Shots 16 9
On Target 4 4
Corners 6 3
Fouls 10 11