Leeds United vs. Arsenal
Venue: Elland Road
Kick off: 5:30PM
Two teams in growing need of a Premier League victory face off this afternoon when Leeds United welcome Arsenal to Elland Road.
Both sides have lost three of their last four top-flight outings to undo promising starts to their respective campaigns, leaving them both languishing in the bottom half after eight games of the campaign.
Arsenal have had to wait two weeks for the chance to respond to their deflating 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa last time out, and you can bet that manager Mikel Arteta has been stewing over that result and performance throughout the international break.
The Spaniard – still a relative managerial rookie – will have no doubt absorbed some of his mentor Pep Guardiola’s admiration for the man in the opposite dugout this afternoon as he pits his wits against the vastly experienced Marcelo Bielsa.
While the two managers are at very different stages of their careers, they come into this match in similar positions, with three defeats in four league games and particularly disappointing three-goal losses last time out.
One day before Arsenal lost to Aston Villa, Leeds were beaten 4-1 by Crystal Palace, with that result coming off the back of another 4-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester City five days earlier.
As a result, two points separate the two bottom-half sides and, while they would have gone into the new campaign with very different objectives, both will be disappointed with such a slump after a positive start.
Arsenal’s three defeats in four games is as many as they had suffered in their previous 12 Premier League outings, and perhaps an even greater concern will be that they failed to even score in those three losses.
Indeed, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang among those misfiring, Arsenal have not found the back of the net from open play in almost six-and-a-half hours of Premier League football, with their only league goal since October 4 being Aubameyang’s winner from the spot away to Manchester United.
Only one team outside the bottom four has scored fewer goals so far this season, which will come as very welcome news to a Leeds side that now has the joint-worst defensive record in the division following their back-to-back 4-1 defeats.
Bielsa’s men have already conceded nine times at Elland Road this term – only Manchester United have shipped more in their own backyard – and you have to go all the way back to Boxing Day of 2003 for their last home clean sheet in the Premier League.
On the flip side, though, Leeds have scored 14 goals so far this term, which is the joint-most outside the top seven and the most by a promoted club in their opening eight matches since 2000-01.
That could be a relevant statistic considering that two of Leeds’ better performances so far this season came against Liverpool and Manchester City – two teams who like to play in a similar high-octane style to Arteta’s Arsenal.
Last season’s Championship winners seem to revel in going toe-to-toe with the big boys and Sunday’s match could give them an opportunity to do that, although Bielsa will be well aware that getting points on the board is the most important thing – they earned only one from those games against Liverpool and Man City, after all.
Leeds’ expectations were perhaps raised too high following their encouraging start to the campaign and it is worth remembering that they are a newly-promoted team, so sitting 15th in the table, seven points above the relegation zone after eight games and level with Manchester United, is by no means a bad position to be in.
However, those successive 4-1 losses will have been a wake-up call as to the continued challenges the Premier League demands, and this weekend they will be looking to avoid losing three league games on the bounce for the first time under Bielsa.
If they are to do that then they will need to improve a poor record against Arsenal, having failed to win any of their last seven meetings across all competitions in a run stretching back to May 2003, and failed to beat them at home since November 2000.
Leeds United possible XI: Meslier, Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Dallas, Phillips, Costa, Roberts, Klich, Harrison, Bamford.
Arsenal possible XI: Leno, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.