Spirited attempt at fightback but injuries not the only common theme in current Leeds United worries

Ten players out yet Leeds United’s line-up against Arsenal still offered hope.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 19th December 2021, 11:30 am

In any case, Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa has never been one to blame injuries or absentees.

The Whites boss is also keen to highlight the merits of teams getting what they deserved.

Yet there can be no arguing with Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at home to Arsenal which, rather like Tuesday night’s 7-0 hammering against Manchester City, could actually have been worse.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

MORE PAIN: The hurt is clear as Leeds United concede for a fourth time in Saturday's defeat against Arsenal at Elland Road. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

That’s not to say that Leeds did not try their best, Bielsa’s Whites attempting their best to rally in the second half.

But the damage was done in a terrible opening 45 minutes and losing possession in the most dangerous of areas ultimately led to United’s latest downfall.

Roared on by a fantastic home support, Leeds began brightly but the Gunners should have been ahead in the third minute and it was a sign of things to come as a Martin Odegaard through ball carved open the Whites who were caught with too many players out of position.

Odegaard got in behind the Whites midfield of Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich and played in Alexandre Lacazette who was denied by the legs of Illan Meslier, Bukayo Saka side footing the rebound wide.

Leeds got away with one there and the same again less than a minute later when Odegaard this time fed Thomas Partey whose low drive was turned behind by Meslier.

But the ease with which Arsenal were cutting through the Whites was worrying and the Gunners made no mistake in the 16th minute after Jack Harrison had been dispossessed on the left touchline, the ball worked to Gabriel Martinelli who netted with a clinical finish after Lacazette had nicked the ball way from Forshaw upon his chance to clear.

Again, the problem initially stemmed from Arsenal getting in behind United’s midfield and it was a common theme, as was the Whites cheaply giving up possession in dangerous areas.

Even before the Gunners doubled their lead, Kieran Tierney was played in only to be denied by a fine save by Meslier, but for whom Leeds might have been five or six goals down at the interval.

If there was a turning point it arrived seconds later as United countered from the subsequent corner, Forshaw’s fine pass releasing Raphinha who looked destined to score after cutting inside but fired just wide.

But a misplaced pass from Stuart Dallas to Klich invited another Arsenal attack and this time there was no let up as Granit Xhaka played in Martinelli to double the lead and already the contest looked done.

It was, Arsenal adding a third before the break, this time with a flowing move that started with 'keeper Aaron Ramsdale, Leeds cut open by another bisecting through ball from Odegaard to Bukayo Saka who eventually netted after United's defence failed with several attempts to tackle.

Leeds were 3-0 down at the break but it could have been far worse, Arsenal having had 15 attempts at goal in the first half, 11 of which were on target, Leeds managing four attempts but without testing Ramsdale.

United’s resolve and spirit can never be doubted and Bielsa’s side deserve credit for their attempts to fight back in the second half, reducing the arrears via a thumping penalty from Raphinha after Ben White had brought down Joe Gelhardt.

Arsenal’s Xhaka had earlier looked lucky to escape scot-free when catching Raphinha on the ankle.

But the damage was done in the opening 45 minutes and a fourth Arsenal goal netted by Emile Smith Rowe in the 86th minute was no less than the visitors deserved, the Gunners serving up 21 attempts at goal during the contest, 12 of which were on target.

Leeds managed nine attempts, only two of which tested ‘keeper Ramsdale.

Once again, the Whites were cut open through the middle, yet another Odegaard through ball doing the damage.

United’s list of absentees is a huge worry and facing anybody in the Premier League in the circumstances would be a huge task, let alone the top four in successive games.

But another worry is the ease with which United are either giving away possession in dangerous areas or being cut open through the middle - or a combination of both.

A message from the Editor:

Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890.

We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.

Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app.

With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Click here to subscribe.

For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.

Thank you Laura Collins