Arsenal can consolidate top four against weakened Leeds

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal applauds the fans following victory in the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal applauds the fans following victory in the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images) /

Arsenal may not have had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to the disciplinary action he earned as a result of his continual tardiness against Southampton, but they ended up not even needing him when they faced the Saints, or West Ham.

The Hammers are no joke, and when they subsequently came to the Emirates for a London Derby, David Moyes had his side ready to play, that’s for sure. Yet a victory against this team was attained as well, by the score of 2-0. While they each count for the same amount of points, regarding the emotional end of the spectrum, the newest victory was massive, and both together have put the Gunners back on a positive track.

Southampton is not the best team this season, despite the best efforts of their Austrian boss, Ralph Hasenhuttl, while on the other hand, West Ham is proving that last season was no fluke. Europe is another story, to be sure, but in England, the Hammers are still in fifth place right now, and they do not look as though they are willing to give up much more ground than that.

Arsenal, therefore, really proved something to not only themselves, but to the rest of the Premier League; they can play against any of these teams, and while the results will not always be perfect, the growth that we are seeing is both tangible and palpable.

Arsenal: Premier League wins over Southampton & West Ham put Arteta’s side back on the right foot ahead of Leeds

Alexandre Lacazette looked really comfortable and useful in that No. 9 spot, and Gabriel Martinelli was magnificent from the left as well. Martin Odegaard was silky, Bukayo Saka always challenging, and this Arsenal squad held the previously fourth placed Hammers to no goals; Aaron Ramsdale continues to do fantastic work for this team in the goal.

The Gunners are currently residing in a Champions League spot and they can continue to build upon that against a reeling Leeds United. That will be no easy match, no matter their form when last we saw Leeds against Manchester City. West Ham, meanwhile, did play a tough resilient match, and they will remain firmly in the hunt moving forward.

But when Arsenal play their game, and play it properly, as they have for good stretches of this season, they will have a real shot of taking another three points at Elland Road. Moreover, a win would likely keep Arsenal up in that fourth spot for now, even if only for a few days as COVID postponed matches return, and would offer further incentive to push through the coming matches ahead – should they too not be postponed, of course.

The entire Aubameyang storyline remains a distraction, I don’t think that can be doubted, but Mikel Arteta has trained this team to look past that type of thing and strictly at what lies before the entire club, as opposed to just one individual. If distractions were massive for this team, it would be succeeding much less than it is, what with COVID talk, the expiring contracts of players like Eddie Nketiah and the aforementioned Lacazette, as well as this new drama regarding the former captain’s time keeping.

This team knows what it has in its sights, and it knows that last year’s disappointing season might be seen in the future, should the right work be put in this season, as nothing more than a springboard season towards the future. Yes, Arsenal is not in Europe this season, but as was intimated by some last season, that actually might be benefiting the team.

While the Premier League schedule can become entirely too hectic by itself, and even more so when other domestic competitions are taken into consideration, adding European play can make everything incredibly difficult from a focusing standpoint. This is not to mention from the team fielding standpoint, where Arteta would be working feverishly to juggle players so as to keep them as healthy and fresh as possible for Europe and England alike.

In this case, however, Arsenal have only one goal: they must do well enough in England to get back to Europe for next season, and they have multiple ways of doing just that. Regarding those hopes vis-a-vis the Premier League, a victory against a depleted Leeds would be a great step in proving that. Even if maters have been tough recently, they are not impossible to overcome for this outfit.

Domestic football aside, the Carabao and FA Cup both sit begging to be won, with European spots to be attained through those competitions. None of it will be easy, but Arsenal will have to show that they can beat some of the better clubs in England to gain the true respect of many of the pundits and analysts who still doubt him.

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Against Leeds, Arsenal will have to come out as we have grown more accustomed to seeing them; they will have to push against Marcelo Bielsa and a very proud Leeds United lot. If they play with the spirit we have seen recently, however, even while the results have sometimes stung, these Gunners will remain near the top of the table as we move ever closer to the end of December.