Mikel Arteta and Arsenal can seek inspiration from unlikely sources to secure success at Leeds
The Premier League hiatus is finally over after two weeks of international football, with Arsenal set to return to action against Leeds United on Sunday afternoon as Mikel Arteta’s outfit look to get back to winning ways.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men are newly-promoted from the Championship but already, they have proved their ability to compete in England’s top-flight with both Liverpool and Manchester City struggling to overcome them this season.
Arteta will have to be ready for a tricky tactical battle, but he can take inspiration from how the Whites have suffered in their past two matches.
Leeds lost 4-1 to Leicester City and one week later, they lost by the same scoreline to Crystal Palace, with both contests offering an insight into their primary weaknesses.
Before facing Leeds, Brendan Rodgers elaborated on his game plan ahead of the clash, stating: “Well, there’s lots of space on the field. They want to attack and attack in numbers and at times, that will leave them exposed. I would say we have the best counter-attacking player in the league in Jamie Vardy. Harvey [Barnes] is super fast as well.”
Rodgers also referenced how Leeds press in a relatively unique way by man-marking, rather than opting for the more popular choice of defending zones, and that man-marking scheme can result in Bielsa’s players being dragged out of position around the pitch, allowing for valuable spaces to open up.
Leicester and Palace both essentially ensured that when Leeds attacked, bodies were behind the ball but when they attacked, Leeds did not; the Foxes and the Eagles moved forwards into space while Bielsa’s men had to construct plays and break down the shape of their opponents, and Arteta could adopt a comparable approach.
An example is pictured below after the ball had just been won by Youri Tielemans; the Belgian midfielder attacked with four of his Leicester teammates against only five Leeds players behind the ball, with Vardy and Barnes able to thrive by using the space afforded to them.
With the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian and Nicolas Pepe at his disposal, the Arsenal boss has the necessary qualities to play in a similar manner. The Gunners could almost refrain from engaging with Leeds high up the field as a means of breaking in numbers at pace whenever the Whites lose possession.
Such a strategy has been used against Liverpool and City in isolated cup matches since Arteta took charge last December, with some positive results secured along the way,
If the Gunners press high and effectively try to play Bielsa at his own game, the contest could descend into an end-to-end basketball match of sorts, as was the case for Leeds against Liverpool and City earlier in the season.
It remains to be seen how the Spaniard will approach Sunday’s meeting but this time around, it would make plenty of sense for him to seek inspiration from Rodgers and Roy Hodgson as opposed to Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.