Marcelo Bielsa on the importance of the FA Cup and why Leeds United's progress will not be measured at Arsenal
MARCELO BIELSA says Leeds United's progress will not be measured by how the Whites fare against Premier League opposition in Monday night's third round FA Cup clash at Arsenal.
Leeds are heading for the Emirates sat top of the Championship having lost just one of their last 15 games - winning nine of them - with the Whites long odds-on to finally seal automatic promotion back to the top flight after a 16-year wait.
Monday night's encounter will now see Bielsa's Whites take on Premier League opposition for the first time in a competitive fixture but United's head coach says consistent high quality displays and not one-off games against big guns are a better measure of steps in the right direction.
Asked if the Arsenal clash could show how much progress his side had made under his stewardship, Bielsa reasoned: "I don’t think so. I think that the regularity of performance points to the progress.
"The quality of the opponents means that you play better, have a higher performance, I can understand this, but there is something wrong. "Big teams play in a similar way in every match.
"They don’t need a great opponent and they don’t play bad against a lower opponent. Or the opposite.
"The opponents are not inhibited against a great opponent and don't feel fear, are not weaker against a big opponent.
"If you watch City and Liverpool, that’s the reference in English football. They play quite similar every match.
"Again, every opponent is the same, but they play quite similar in every match.
"Players who play well sometimes and play bad regular, they do not play in those top level teams.
"You are not going to see a player in a top team play one match well, and another bad."
Arsenal sit tenth in the Premier League with the Gunners having sacked former Paris St-Germain boss Unai Emery at the end of November.
Interim boss Freddie Ljungberg then took charge before the appointment of former Manchester City assistant and ex-Gunners midfielder Mikel Arteta who now has one win, one draw and one defeat from his three games in charge.
"Of course it’s a big challenge for us," said Bielsa.
"It is enough to see the players and the prestige they have and the level they have.
"The stadium they play, the quantity of people that go to the stadium, how many supporters they have around the world, the manager, the previous managers, all these facts describe the power of the club."
Pressed as to whether the FA Cup was a distraction or a welcome break from United's league campaign, Bielsa said: "It’s an official engagement and every official engagement we cannot consider a distraction if it's an official engagement.
"It’s a competition with a great history and from there, every opponent is important."
Bielsa has already confirmed his team news with the head coach set to make four changes and hand llan Meslier and Robbie Gotts their first-team debuts.
France under-20s goalkeeper Meslier will replace Kiko Casilla in goal while Stuart Dallas will drop out of midfield for Academy product Gotts.
Helder Costa will be replaced by Barry Douglas meaning Gjanni Alioski will move forward on to the left wing while Gaetano Berardi will replace skipper Liam Cooper at centre-back.