Nicolas Pepe will be the main talking point this evening as Leeds and Arsenal played out a fairly one-sided draw. Arsenal will walk away feeling happier with the point, although it was a frustrating game for both sides.
Arsenal started off in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with midfielders Ceballos and Xhaka sitting in front of the defence. Right from the start, however, Leeds were playing how Leeds play best. High pressing and frantic chasing of the ball, the newly-promoted side did not let the Gunners have any time.
Arsenal pressed high too, in a game that looked open at the start.
However it was Leeds who were stronger in the first half, and indeed the whole game, with a number of penetrating attacks down Arsenal’s left hand side. Left back Kieran Tierney had to be at his best to make up for a seemingly uninterested Willian.
But the Yorkshire side just couldn’t find their finishing boots.
Reiss Nelson came on for Willian, who reported muscle pain, at half time, in the hope of providing some much needed electricity going forward. On the opposite side, Bellerin and Pepe were working more harmoniously.
But things took a turn for the Gunners when Pepe, initially not seen by the on-field referee, made a soft but unmistakeable headbutt towards Ezgjan Alioski. A check of the VAR monitor left no doubt and a red card was shown.
Substitute Bukayo Saka came on in the 56th minute for Joe Willock. And it was Saka, along with and left-back Kieran Tierney, who provided the most spark. However they were unable to materialise, with Saka going closest after a surging run through the middle of the Leeds defence.
Leeds Come so Close Yet so Far
It will be Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side that will go home the most disappointed about the shared points.
His side looked strong all game but were unable to capitalise on their chances. 25 shots were taken, however just 4 of these were on target. The side also recorded an incredible 66% of the possession.
Patrick Bamford, Rodrigo and Raphinha all hit the woodwork as keeper Bernd Leno was called into action as well.
Attacking and defending as a unit, all 10 players were involved in the game in a side that allows no by-standers.
But the red card seemed to have almost a negative impact on the side. A once calm team (as calm as a Bielsa side can be), the opportunity to get the victory seemed to get in their heads as attack after attack became more and more forced.
A rare game, where a side that are used to hitting the target, must have left their shooting boots at home.
Arsenal’s Attacking Issues
Arsenal will have far less to smile about as they go into Sunday night 11th in the table.
The side recorded their first draw of the season.
There is no doubt manager Mikel Arteta has brought the side together defensively. The signs are there that this is a well-drilled, highly effective defensive side. As soon as the ball was lost, Xhaka and Ceballos would go straight back into the shape, and they defended the edge of the penalty area extremely effectively.
The problems are going forward. Arsenal have only scored nine goals in nine league games this season. That is their lowest tally at this stage since 1986-87.
They have not scored a Premier League goal from open play in almost eight hours of football. And it is clear to see why. The side lack creativity and threat going forward, with full back Kieran Tierney being the stand out offensive player. The Scot made driving runs and was always seen in the attack, before bombing back to help out the defence.
Bukayo Saka too looked sharp, coming closest to a goal, but was unable to slide the ball past goalkeeper Meslier.
The side will go back to London in a poor mood, and £72 million man Nicolas Pepe will no doubt get a telling off from his boss.
But what do you do when all your offensive players are out of form? Something, somewhere, needs to change. Maybe Arteta has been so focused on fixing a poor Arsenal defence, that he forgot you need to score goals to win games.