So what of Patrick Bamford? Sometimes something just happens for players, where circumstances are right and they step up a level. And other times, players have a period in which they play as well as they can and stuff just happens for them? Which is it, because I’ve not a clue.
I guess Arteta will still like he’s giving his defence adequate protection because in front of them, Xhaka won’t move much and Ceballos won’t move loads, so there’ll still be plenty of bodies for Leeds to pass around. And perhaps the presence of Willock suggests that Willian will indeed play centrally, will the aim being for the former to run past the latter. But I’m still not sure a team who create as little can afford to have their only serious goal-threat on the left, because although that can make Aubameyang hard to mark when attacking from in to out, he spends a lot of time out of the game.
Elsewhere, West Ham are up to eighth, Sebastian Haller’s thumper giving them a win at Sheffield United, who stay bottom and have fewer points than overlapping centre-backs.
As for Arsenal, yes, Arteta has had enough. I might be reading things wrong, but to me it looks like he’s moved from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3 – something I’m sure he planned to do, but from a position of strength, not weakness. He also moves his most likely scorer to centre-forward – I think, but it’s also possible that Willian plays as a false
nine. In midfield, though, Joe Willock finally gets the start that his cup performances have earned; his willingness to shoot, run past the strikers and generally take risks should add energy that’s worth the downside of his avant-garde passing. I’m a little surprised that Bukayo Saka isn’t starting – off the left, but him and Willock and midfield, and you’d really be talking – but on the right, I guess the time has come to give Nicolas Pepe a run and see what happens (though we can probably guess).
So what does it all mean? Well, the return of Kalvin Phillips is huge news for Leeds, taking their school-maam bun quotient up to 782. It’s not the remotest coincidence that his absence coincided with that pair of 4-1 tousings, not just because he protects a dicky back four but because his passing means his team have more of the ball and create more chances. And Marcelo Bielsa makes one other change, handing Raphina his first Premier League start, in place of Struijk.
Leeds United (a pedagogical 4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips;Alioski, Raphinha, Klich, Harrison; Bamford. Subs: Casilla, Poveda, Roberts, Costa, Rodrigo, Struijk, Davis.
Arsenal (a sophisticate’s 4-3-2-1): Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Willock, Ceballos; Willian, Pepe, Aubameyang. Subs: Runarsson, Saka, Lacazette, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Nelson, Nketiah.
The world is strange and people are strange, so it’s no great shock that football is strange, it being played in the world, by people. But rarely has it been as strange as now, and the two teams playing this afternoon are stranger than most.
Few Premier League teams have impressed as much as Leeds this season, who were especially great against Liverpool and Man City. However consecutive 1-4 defeats, to Leicester and Palace, indicated a fragility in defence and in the mind, and somehow they are now 15th in the table. This is not so impressive.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were so impressively aggressive at Manchester United only to be comprehensively gubbed at home by Aston Villa. Most particularly, they are struggling to score and struggling to create, a problem that looks no closer to resolution now than it did in the summer. But perhaps that last game will precipitate a change, because although a player or two is required, the best the squad has to offer is definitely better than this, this being one goal in four league games, and that an unnecessarily conceded penalty. Mikel Arteta’s team selection will introduce us to his thoughts on the matter.
All of which is to say that this is a really interesting match-up with the potential to grow into a really exciting game. Leeds will take it to Arsenal because that’s what they do, and Arsenal might just respond in kind because that’s what they’ve been pushed into doing.
Kick-off: 4.30pm GMT