Leeds v Arsenal is mouthwatering. And Leeds’ pressing could play right into the hands of this stuttering Arsenal side.
Like Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Leeds, this one is likely to begin tense and fricative, with plenty of pressing and positional discipline, only to descend into chaos. Leeds’ desire to hit the wings with ruthless vertical football should put Arsenal’s overworked wing-backs under huge pressure, plus their hard pressing ought to force mistakes out of an error-prone Gunners back line.
But the visitors will be just as threatening. One of the main reasons Arsenal have lacked creativity recently is that opponents are sitting back, whereas Mikel Arteta would prefer to invite them onto his players as they pass out from the back, opening up counter-attacking-style opportunities for his forwards. The ferocious high press of Marcelo Bielsa’s single-minded team should allow the Gunners to attack with menace on Sunday.
Key battle zone
The configurations in central midfield are hard to predict but should ultimately define the outcome of the game. Arsenal’s midfield two has been overly functional this season and disconnected from the front three, but Thomas Partey could make more effective progressive runs on Sunday thanks to Leeds’ tendency to empty out the middle of the park.
Bielsa pulls his midfielders to the wings and instructs them to burst forward at will, potentially giving Arsenal’s centre-mids the space needed to link with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian. However, it is equally plausible that Arsenal’s passivity and hesitancy this season will leave their two-man midfield exposed to the explosive energy of Leeds’ three. Outnumbered and outrun, Mohamed Elneny and Partey may be overwhelmed in 20-minute bursts.
Keep an eye on… Arsenal’s counters
Crystal Palace and Leicester City both scored four goals in Leeds’ last two matches, highlighting their vulnerability to rapid counter-attacks designed to catch Bielsa’s side just after one of their gung-ho attacks breaks down. Seeing as more tentative sides like Wolves and Manchester City (neither of which counter-attack particularly aggressively) only scored once against Leeds, it is becoming clear that fast breaks are the best way to expose Bielsa.
Arsenal, like Man City, don’t tend to launch counter-attacks, with Arteta instead favouring ultra-disciplined positional organisation that gets his team moving slowly up the field in a perfectly choreographed shape. The visitors’ chances of winning this game may rest on whether Arteta is willing to loosen the strings a little and give his defenders licence to hit long searching balls for the Arsenal front three.
One to watch… Patrick Bamford
There is no doubt Leeds will create chances, their direct passing into the flanks not only catching the Arsenal wing-backs in advanced positions but Kieran Tierney, too. Kalvin Philips’ distribution on the counter will open space for Jack Harrison and Helder Costa on the wings, and so Leeds supporters need to hope that the international break has not interrupted Patrick Bamford’s purple patch.
The 27-year-old, who has scored seven Premier League goals this season, scored another superb goal against Crystal Palace in Leeds’ last match – while Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins continually found alarming amounts of space in the Arsenal penalty area a fortnight ago.
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Alex Keble hosts a Premier League pre-match tactics show at twitch.tv/EPLtactics