Arsenal v Leeds United - the tactical battle facing Mikel Arteta and Marcelo Bielsa at The Emirates explained

Marcelo Bielsa and Mikel Arteta do battle for the third time in just over a year, tomorrow, as Leeds United return to The Emirates to face Arsenal.

By Jon Mackenzie
Saturday, 13th February 2021, 11:43 am

If Arsenal’s mid-table position was unexpected at the start of the season, it has slowly become normal by now.

When Leeds United and Arsenal played their first fixture in the Premier League calendar, Arsenal were in 12th place and Leeds were still considered relegation contenders.

Fast forward to the present and both teams are solid mid-table teams with an outside chance of European qualification. Win on Sunday and Leeds will cement their credentials as a top half of the table side.

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Here are three aspects of Mikel Arteta’s system to look out for at the weekend:

A similar system...

When Arsenal visited Elland Road back in November, Mikel Arteta had them playing a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Fast forward three months and he still has them playing the 4-2-3-1 formation, but it looks very different to the one that played out a 0-0 draw.

TACTICAL BATTLE - Leeds United were dominant against Arsenal but failed to make a breakthrough in the 0-0 Elland Road draw in Premier League action earlier this season. Pic: Getty

Arteta now deploys Thomas Partey in midfield alongside Granit Xhaka, Emile Smith-Rowe has been getting time in the number 10 slot, Alexandre Lacazette has been fronting the forward line, and although Nicolas Pepe is still playing in a wide berth, he’s been switched from right to left.

This is quite a different iteration of the 4-2-3-1.

...but a different style?

And the current 4-2-3-1 is not simply different personnel-wise… it’s also different style-wise.

Whilst it’s hard to read too much into the first fixture between these two teams because of the Pepe red card, that version of Arsenal was much more rigid than the present one. Arteta, still trying to work the basics of his positional play into his team, had them playing a quite rigid structure back in November.

More recently, though, they’ve been let off the leash and look a little more flexible in possession.

The DM challenge

With Kalvin Phillips coming off early against Crystal Palace with what looked like a calf injury, it remains to be seen if he will be fit.

If he is out for the game, then it does cause structural issues for Leeds: does Pascal Struijk move into the defensive midfield role or do we see someone else slot in to keep Struijk in the back line?

Either way, the defensive midfield role will be important. Emile Smith-Rowe has been impressing at number 10 for Arsenal and, even if he’s rested, Arteta could bring in Martin Odegaard for a first league start.

Both players are smart movers and will look to drag the defensive midfielder around to create space in the midfield area for team-mates to attack.

Jon runs All Stats Aren't We, a Leeds United media channel that focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game. Click here for more.