Arsenal’s preparations have been far from ideal.
A whole host of senior squad members have been in action even beyond Europe, many of whom have clocked in huge numbers for their countries over a six day period. Fatigue and injury are one thing, but Arsenal also have Sead Kolasinac and Mohamed Elneny unavailable after contracting COVID-19.
Thomas Partey was the latest to be ruled out of the trip to Elland Road on Sunday, leaving Arsenal in a precarious position for a match they simply must win.
Mikel Arteta has faced more criticism since the Aston Villa defeat than ever before in his managerial career, with only the most sadistic of us wondering how much worse it could get if Marcelo Bielsa’s side do a number on the Gunners.
All is not lost, though.
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Despite Leeds winning over the mutual with their expansive, full throttle style of play, they have conceded eight goals in their last two matches. Even by Premier League new-boy standards, it reads poorly. They, just as with any side, have weaknesses. Areas of exploitation that Arsenal can take advantage of.
Here are three of them.
Suffocate the Supply Line
Affectionately dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’, his role at the base of the midfield is where Leeds’ expansive play derives from. Give him time on the ball and he will hurt any side.
We need look no further than the opening day defeat to Liverpool for evidence of his capabilities. The Reds pressed high but bypassed Phillips in the base of midfield, where given enough time on the ball he was able to catapult Leeds’ wide players into threatening areas in the blink of an eye.
Arteta has instructed individual members of his team to man mark already this season, a ploy that needs reintegrating on Sunday.
Who plays that role will depend on the lineup. While many may loathe the thought, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexandre Lacazette retain his place for this very reason. It’d be a continuation of a much-maligned strategy, but his aggression to drop deep and press could see him start up front. It wouldn’t come as a shock.
Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng Down the Middle
It’s what everyone wants.
Regardless of opposition or competition, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang playing through the middle would be a means of catharsis for aggrieved supporters.
That positional change would suit well in a host of scenarios, none more so than against Leeds. Bielsa’s approach, potentially to his detriment, is to win every game. Like Norwich last season they’re happy to have their full-backs as auxiliary wingers and commit bodies forward with each attack.
As demonstrated already this season, it can leave them hopelessly exposed, nowhere more evident than in behind their centre-backs. Liam Cooper and Robin Koch are far from the quickest in the division, an area that Jamie Vardy had a field day in when Leicester thumped the Lillywhites at Elland Road last time out.
Having Aubameyang constantly on the shoulder will stretch Leeds’ back line, and if the opt against dropping back five or ten yards they’ll be picked off in an instant.
One of the major criticisms of Arsenal’s attacking style has been the lack of aggressive runs and the ball being constantly played to feet. Differing the approach against Leeds will bear fruit. It’s a proposition Aubameyang will savour.
Get Bodies in the Box
At points of prolonged possession and dictation of play, whoever plays up front can’t be dallying on the edge of the box.
Part of Leeds’ style is their quick pressing and ball retention, as well as the pace with which they win the ball back after relinquishing it. Averaging 21 tackles per game (WhoScored), it comes as no surprise that their tally is a league high this term.
Not all are successful, and they have a penchant for giving away needless fouls, as demonstrated by the four penalties they’ve conceded already. Arsenal need to invite their erratic centre-backs into positions of danger, given them reason to go to ground early or lose their focus.
There is no use in continuing with three men down one flank when Leeds’ main weakness lies in the heart of the pitch. Give the central defenders the opportunity to make an error.