A historic old Premier League rivalry resumes this weekend as Leeds United welcome Arsenal to Elland Road for the first time since 2003.
On that brisk November day, Arsene Wenger’s soon-to-be ‘Invincibles’ cruised to a 4-1 victory, with a Thierry Henry brace condemning Leeds to one of 23 defeats in the season that saw them nose dive into the Football League.
Now, though, Leeds are back, and neither they nor Arsenal can claim to be in fine form this time around. Having conceded 17 goals in what is the joint-worst defensive record in the division, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Leeds are not the tight ship they once were in the Championship – with both Crystal Palace and Leicester City racking up four goals against Marcelo Bielsa’s side over the last two games.
Arsenal, meanwhile, ended their barren run of 25 matches without an away win against the ‘Big Six’ three weeks ago with a 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford, but the subsequent 3-0 crumbling at home to Aston Villa demonstrated that Mikel Arteta still has a number of problem areas to address.
Here’s 90min‘s preview of the game.
When Is Kick Off? Sunday 22 November
What Time Is Kick Off? 16:30 (GMT)
Where Is it Played? Elland Road
TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Main Event & Premier League
Referee? Anthony Taylor
Kalvin Phillips is set to return for Leeds after a torn shoulder ligament suffered in the defeat to Wolves left him sidelined for two matches. Summer signing Rodrigo is also back in contention after testing positive for COVID-19, while Pablo Hernandez will likely miss out due to a muscle strain.
Arsenal are without Thomas Partey for the trip to West Yorkshire, with the Ghanaian joining both Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli on the treatment table with a thigh injury incurred in the defeat to Aston Villa.
Mohamed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac are also both unavailable after testing positive for coronavirus during the international break, leaving Arteta with somewhat of a truncated squad to select from going into the game.
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips; Costa, Klich, Roberts, Harrison; Bamford
Arsenal: Leno; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
With two players testing positive for COVID-19 and reports emerging of a training ground bust-up between Dani Ceballos and David Luiz, it’s fair to say it’s been a turbulent couple of weeks for the Gunners.
The credentials of Arteta continue to be scrutinised, and after picking up just three points from their last four games, it’s understandable that there are questions.
Debates rage on over whether captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be playing on the left side of the front three, instead of in the centre, but perhaps the biggest and most gaping flaw in Arteta’s system is the lack of urgency in possession; something that has blunted the Gunners going forward.
If shot-shy Arsenal were to rediscover their attacking mojo, though, then it could conceivably be against a Leeds side that have inspired as much confidence as a government announcement so far this season.
The Whites have conceded a staggering 17 goals in eight games, and unlike Arsenal, who are much more risk-averse in their system, Leeds throw bodies forward. Bielsa, though, will be Bielsa, and as long as Leeds sit above the relegation zone – they are seven points clear currently – this is unlikely to change.
Here’s how each side have fared in their last five matches.
Crystal Palace 4-1 Leeds (07/11)
Leeds 1-4 Leicester City (02/11)
Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds (23/10)
Leeds 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers (19/10)
Leeds 1-1 Man City (03/10)
Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa (08/11)
Arsenal 4-1 Molde (05/11)
Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal (01/11)
Arsenal 3-0 Dundalk (29/10)
Arsenal 0-1 Leicester City (25/10)
Such is the contrast in tempo and style between the two sides, the outcome of Sunday’s game will likely revolve around who can adapt to the opposition, and who can do so quickest.
Bielsa is a stubborn yet forward thinking tactician who rarely accomodates his tactics to the opponent. His focus will most likely be on fine-tuning his own system to pick holes in the Arsenal defence, as opposed to negating their strengths at the other end.
Yet, with the pace of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe/Willian at the other end, you wonder whether this is the wisest idea. For Arteta, it’s surely all about maximising the counter-attacking threat of these players, and to do that, they will have to move the ball forward quickly – something which they haven’t done in recent weeks.
If Arteta finds a solution, though, then the effects could be devastating – just as they were in Leeds’ 4-1 defeat to Leicester City.
Prediction: Leeds 1-3 Arsenal