20 min You know that bit where I said this was interesting and potentially exciting? Yeah, don’t tell anyone.
18 min “I also wonder about Patrick Bamford,” says Matt Dony. “In one of the first games of the season, I suggested (possibly unkindly) that he’s one of those players whose true level falls somewhere between the Premier League and the Championship; too good for one, too scruffy for t’other. And of course he’s since made me look silly by being really quite good. But then, players have purple patches. At this point last season, Pukki was bothering the top-scoring charts, before going on to have a distinctly average second two-thirds of a season. And yet. And yet. Bamford hasn’t looked flukey or bobbly. Some of his goals have been technically very impressive. Maybe there’s a real top-flight player in there, after all. And maybe, just maybe, I know less about judging elite strikers than experienced managers.”
The new Dwight Gayle. But yes, I agree with you, the quality of his goals suggests there’s something more interesting going on, and I was heartened to hear that he was disappointed not to be called up by England, not because I think he should be in the squad but because his confidence is clearly building. And when you can finish as we’ve seen he can, confidence is a huge part of things.
17 min A poor corner from Pepe, and after Aubameyang gets a touch, the flag goes up for offside.
16 min It’s Pepe, who swings out towards the back post, where Dallas heads behind.
15 min Ceballos is quick to another loose ball, taking it away from Dallas who scythes through him nevertheless; he’s booked, and Arsenal now have a free-kick 25 yards out, left of centre, which Willian or Pepe will bend in.
14 min An ok couple of minutes from Leeds, winning a corner down the right which ends up with Kilch. He has time to plot a ball into the box, but can’t put it where he has men.
12 min Nice from Leeds, Harrison striding forward at inside-left and feeding Alioski on the overlap; his low cross is a decent one too, but Bamford can only impart a toe-poke and Leno saves.
at 11.44am EST
12 min But here comes Tierney again, smacking over a cross that’s just over Pepe.
12 min It’s all a bit of a mess so far.
11 min And here is Willian, wandering into the middle, where Willock’s touch is heavy. But Ceballos grabs possession well, shifts the ball right, and with Pepe beseeching him for pass, tries a shot from 25 yards that flies wide of the near post.
10 min For now, at least, Arsenal have Pepe on the right and Willian wandering from the left.
9 min Some needs to tell Gary Neville that it’s Daniel Leevee, not Daniel Lehvee.
7 min “I don’t think Leeds’ inconsistent results are so strange, they are not a result of the 2020 curse,” says Mary Waltz. “They play a hyper-aggressive, high-risk, high-reward style of football. When firing on all cylinders it is a fearsome thing to confront. But when it isn’t running smooth they are exposed and crushed.”
Yes, but that style is particularly susceptible to the unique rigours of our time, given the condensed fixture list, though I also think Leeds suffer have a really manager and system, but don’t have many if any elite-level players.
6 min Raphinha collects a nice lay-off fro Klich and the whole of centrefield is available to him, so he strides into it. He might shoot, but decides to get a bit closer then, from 25 yards, slips into a tame effort that flies high and wide.
at 11.50am EST
4 min Arsenal are pressing Leeds a bit – it looks like they’re trying to make them pass under pressure rather than trying to win the ball.
2 min “What’s going to happen is that Pepe will get the ball and either do that weird shimmy into a defender and lose the ball or just pass it back to Holding and co,” says Ben Chapman, his wearied resignation seeping through my screen.
Signing him always looked a bit odd – all that money for someone not Cote d’Ivoire’s first XI, who’d had one great season playing in the second-best team in a relatively low-standard league, and no one else wanting to buy him. But he does have some ability, and a little bit more time before his position is irretrievable.
2 min Tierney marauds forward and finds Willock, allowed to the by-line by Phillips, but he then overhits his cross.
1 min Willian took the kick-off, so I wonder if it’s actually him in the middle … no, it’s Aubameyang.
1 min Off we go!
at 11.38am EST
The players take a knee. All black lives matter people.
Email! “And so, for Arsenal fans, it starts,” says Charles Antaki. “How many worse teams are there now in the Premier League – Fulham and four others? Three, two, others? How many for Arsenal to be safe, and how many for Arsenal to be safe from ignominy? I share your feeling that this is going to be Leeds’ day, leaving Arsenal looking sad, confused and downwards.”
Arsenal will finish in the top eight, I’d expect, and may end up higher than that – it’s so hard to predict what’ll happen.
Leeds carry out an iPad with a young man on it by the name of Elliot, who’s poorly with cancer but acting as their mascot today. That’s a lovely touch – go well young man.
“Am I back on?” asks Gary Nev. “I think they turned me off after my ‘hi Patrice’ interlude.”
It’s raining heavily at Elland Road, and when we cut there Gary Neville is minding his own business, greeting Patrice Evra, who’s also in studio, like they’re not on camera.
Freddie Ljungberg is a great get for Sky, and he’s really good on Willock, who he rates very highly, talking about how quick he is once he opens his legs – Steven Gerrard was like that too – and on Pepe, who he says is brilliant one on one but has problems in the build-up because he makes bad decisions. Ultimately, Arteta doesn’t have many other options on the right, though at 25, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever improve enough.
It’s not Arsenal colours, but I am absolutely having this top. Obviously it’s ruined by sponsorship, but otherwise. I bet Hector Bellerin loves it.
Seeing as Aubameyang is in the middle, I imagine Arsenal will play Willian on the left and Pepe on the right. Previously, Pepe has been a little marooned on the touchline, keeping the width so Aubameyang can attack the box, and if Willian’s playing on the wrong side, that will presumably be the plan this evening. But it’s not helpful to a player who’s also playing on the wrong side, likes to shoot, and is one of his team’s better finishers.
I quite fancy Leeds in this. I’m not sure Arteta trusts his team enough to ask them to press against a team who do it better, and his defence is not a particularly good one. Leeds will come at them quickly, and they might need to stay in the game to allow their superior individual quality to take effect.
Bielsa says that his team “usually generates danger” but sometimes their efficiency lowers the desired outcome. He hopes they can “generate danger” today. I feel like I really know him.
Arteta says that his team have a big challenge ahead of them and has moved Aubameyang into the middle – which he’s always said is an option, and one he thinks suitable today. He says his team need to be precise in playing through Leeds’ press.
So what of Patrick Bamford? Sometimes something just happens for players, where circumstances are right and they step up a level. And other times, players have a period in which they play as well as they can and stuff just happens for them? Which is it, because I’ve not a clue.
I guess Arteta will still like he’s giving his defence adequate protection because in front of them, Xhaka won’t move much and Ceballos won’t move loads, so there’ll still be plenty of bodies for Leeds to pass around. And perhaps the presence of Willock suggests that Willian will indeed play centrally, will the aim being for the former to run past the latter. But I’m still not sure a team who create as little can afford to have their only serious goal-threat on the left, because although that can make Aubameyang hard to mark when attacking from in to out, he spends a lot of time out of the game.
Also this afternoon:
Elsewhere, West Ham are up to eighth, Sebastian Haller’s thumper giving them a win at Sheffield United, who stay bottom and have fewer points than overlapping centre-backs.
As for Arsenal, yes, Arteta has had enough. I might be reading things wrong, but to me it looks like he’s moved from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3 – something I’m sure he planned to do, but from a position of strength, not weakness. He also moves his most likely scorer to centre-forward – I think, but it’s also possible that Willian plays as a false
nine. In midfield, though, Joe Willock finally gets the start that his cup performances have earned; his willingness to shoot, run past the strikers and generally take risks should add energy that’s worth the downside of his avant-garde passing. I’m a little surprised that Bukayo Saka isn’t starting – off the left, but him and Willock and midfield, and you’d really be talking – but on the right, I guess the time has come to give Nicolas Pepe a run and see what happens (though we can probably guess).
So what does it all mean? Well, the return of Kalvin Phillips is huge news for Leeds, taking their school-maam bun quotient up to 782. It’s not the remotest coincidence that his absence coincided with that pair of 4-1 tousings, not just because he protects a dicky back four but because his passing means his team have more of the ball and create more chances. And Marcelo Bielsa makes one other change, handing Raphina his first Premier League start, in place of Struijk.
Leeds United (a pedagogical 4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips;Alioski, Raphinha, Klich, Harrison; Bamford. Subs: Casilla, Poveda, Roberts, Costa, Rodrigo, Struijk, Davis.
Arsenal (a sophisticate’s 4-3-2-1): Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Willock, Ceballos; Willian, Pepe, Aubameyang. Subs: Runarsson, Saka, Lacazette, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Nelson, Nketiah.
at 10.37am EST
The world is strange and people are strange, so it’s no great shock that football is strange, it being played in the world, by people. But rarely has it been as strange as now, and the two teams playing this afternoon are stranger than most.
Few Premier League teams have impressed as much as Leeds this season, who were especially great against Liverpool and Man City. However consecutive 1-4 defeats, to Leicester and Palace, indicated a fragility in defence and in the mind, and somehow they are now 15th in the table. This is not so impressive.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were so impressively aggressive at Manchester United only to be comprehensively gubbed at home by Aston Villa. Most particularly, they are struggling to score and struggling to create, a problem that looks no closer to resolution now than it did in the summer. But perhaps that last game will precipitate a change, because although a player or two is required, the best the squad has to offer is definitely better than this, this being one goal in four league games, and that an unnecessarily conceded penalty. Mikel Arteta’s team selection will introduce us to his thoughts on the matter.
All of which is to say that this is a really interesting match-up with the potential to grow into a really exciting game. Leeds will take it to Arsenal because that’s what they do, and Arsenal might just respond in kind because that’s what they’ve been pushed into doing.
Kick-off: 4.30pm GMT
at 10.11am EST