Result: Leeds United 0-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 22 November 2020
Venue: Elland Road
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Ceballos, Xhaka, Willock, Willian, Pepe, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Mustafi, Saka, Maitland-Niles, Lacazette, Nelson, Nketiah
Arsenal survived 40 minutes with 10 men to claim a hard-earned 0-0 draw against Leeds United at Elland Road.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were probably better value for the win even before Nicolas Pepe got himself sent off for a ridiculous headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski but the home side couldn’t take advantage of their man advantage hitting the woodwork on three occasions.
The Gunners were disciplined defending deep and had chances of their own to snatch a winner leaving Mikel Arteta frustrated on an afternoon when he was desperate for a win.
Mikel Arteta opted to bench both Alex Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah meaning Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was given the responsibility of leading the attack from a central position. Nicolas Pepe and Willian offered support on the flanks with Joe Willock, making his first Premier League appearance of the season, floating behind. In the absence of Mo Elneny and Thomas Partey, we returned to the Xhaka-Ceballos double-pivot that served us well at the tail-end of last season. Despite their troubles against Villa, Bellerin, Tierney, Gabriel and Holding got the nod in defence. After a busy international break, Bukayo Saka was left on the bench. David Luiz stayed in London after the birth of his daughter yesterday.
From the outset, this felt like a clash between two teams who’d been told exactly what to expect from each other. Both sides traded neat spells of possession but it was cagey, like boxers trading jabs but unwilling to commit to anything more risky.
Raphinha and Ceballos traded efforts that went high and wide, Bamford had a toe-poke saved by Leno and Pepe nearly caught out Meslier with a cross that clipped off the bar.
For the most part, Arsenal were comfortable in the opening 21 minutes. Ceballos offered bite and energy in midfield and Willock did his best to try and inject some drive when on the ball. Unfortunately, the front trio of Pepe, Willian and Aubameyang looked frustratingly disjointed. Our captain did have a decent chance on 24 minutes but swiped wide after quick interplay by Ceballos, Pepe, Willock and Bellerin.
After that, Leeds started to dominate. They really fancied their chances attacking Bellerin’s flank and time after time, they’d double up on the Spaniard before trying cutbacks towards the penalty spot. While Xhaka and Ceballos were often alert to the danger and cleared the ball, the fact that Dallas and Klich has chances was a worry. Leno also had to stop a bouncing volley by Bamford, who pounced on a tentative clearance by Gabriel, and was sent sprawling by a Raphinha shot from the edge of the box that was taken early.
Ayling and Pepe traded further efforts in the dying embers of the half, the latter trying his luck with a trademark curler, but to be honest we were lucky to head into the break on level terms.
Reiss Nelson replaced the ineffective Willian and looked lively but his chances of making an impact were considerably affected by Pepe’s stupidity inside five minutes of the restart.
Off the ball, the Ivorian, clearly irked by something said or done by Alioski, confronted the defender with his head. The Macedonia international went down in a heap, VAR checked it, referee Anthony Taylor visited the pitchside monitor and a red card was shown. It was idiotic by Pepe and he deserved the punishment.
Arteta reacted by sending on Saka for Willock and Nelson switched from left to right. The plan was to sit in a deep block and then try and counter with pace. In a teaser, Saka and Tierney combined to tee up Aubameyang whose tame shot was saved.
At the other end, Raphinha slipped in Dallas who lashed an effort that was heading into the top corner before Leno tipped over. It was a great save by the German.
While we were doing pretty well at keeping Leeds at arm’s length, we repeatedly lost the duels in midfield and that meant the pressure kept building. Rodrigo, on as a sub, twice tried his luck; a first effort whistled over and a second, on 79 minutes, struck the bar.
Saka’s toil led to a chance for Aubameyang whose effort was blocked by the elbow of Cooper. VAR took a look but ruled the defender couldn’t have done anything more to get his arm out of the way.
The chances kept coming for both sides. Leno made a clean save to deny Poveda, another who was invited onto his left foot, and Saka had a fine chance to steal the points on the break. Bellerin put him through with a brilliant through ball but the England international couldn’t get the better of Meslier who closed him down quickly.
Back came Leeds. Bamford met Poveda’s cross with his head but the ball skipped off the turf and onto the post. Leno needed treatment in the aftermath, sustaining a cut to his arm that meant he had to change shirt.
Klich side-footed over in the first of five minutes of stoppage time that were extended even further when Saka picked up an injury that meant he had to be replaced by Maitland-Niles. Ceballos also went down in a heap after Phillips took out his ankle. He received a booking.
Raphinha ensured the nerves kept jangling until the dying seconds as he became the third Leeds player to hit the woodwork. We just about held on but the drama continued after the final whistle with a fired-up Tierney being dragged away from a number of Leeds players.
A point on the road in the circumstances isn’t to be sniffed at but more dropped points is a concern as the gap on the big boys starts to widen.