|Arsenal 2 v 0 Leeds United|
Tuesday, 26th October 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Leeds out of the Carabao Cup after disappointing second half
Wednesday, 27th Oct 2021 10:55 by Tim Whelan
Leeds had the better of the game in the first half, but it was a different story when Arsenal woke up after the break, and a couple of goals from individual errors were enough to see the Gunners go through to the quarter-finals at our expense.
Marcello Bielsa fielded a starting eleven that was close to the strongest side he could have chosen from the members of his squad who are still free of injury. He made four changes, but one of those was the enforced replacement Raphinha, and another was the return of Kalvin Phillips. The others saw Forshaw getting a rare start after his own problems, and the other was the debut of young Cody Drameh.
It made a pleasant change to have a specialist right back in that position in the continued absence of Luke Ayling. The Arsenal line-up had a rather more experimental look about it, but that did mean that they had one or two fringe players who needed to take the opportunity to impress. Ben White was their only starting player who had faced Villa in their last league game, and we also faced another of our former loan stars in the shape of Eddie Nketia.
Drameh’s first involvement saw him caught out when we waited for a pass to arrive and Martinelli nipped in to take the ball off him, before forcing Meslier into a save. But once Drameh realised he wouldn’t have as much time on the ball as he does in the under-23s, he grew into the game and started to make a few telling interceptions.
Leeds had to whether a difficult early spell, but from around 15 minutes we started to have most of the possession. The first clear chance came from an excellent ball over the top from Llorente to put Dan James through on goal, but his first touch was poor, and Leno was off his line very quickly to smother the final shot.
We forced a series of corners, and one of them was only partially cleared as far as Harrison on the edge of the box. His fierce show went through a defender’s legs, but Leno produced another fine save as he dived to his left to keep the ball out, despite having seen the ball very late. Leeds kept up the pressure until half-time, but it was yet another case of failing to score when we’re having the best of the game.
At half time Forshaw was replaced by Klich, presumably to manage his workload as he continues to build up his fitness after being out with various injuries for so long. Arteta didn’t make any changes in personnel at this stage, but he might have had a few words to say during the break, as Arsenal came out looking a bit better organised and more determined in the second half.
Their first change was enforced as Ben White limped off, and it took less than a minute for his replacement Calum Chambers to make a decisive impact. Arsenal won a corner, and for some reason Meslier ended up behind his line as we struggled to clear. He might have lost his bearings for a fraction of a second, but it meant that Chambers’ header had crossed the line before he was able to get to it.
There was no VAR for this game, but goal-line technology was still in force, yet Andre Marriner took a while to signal the goal. Perhaps he didn’t hear the bleep amidst all the noise in the stadium, but eventually he looked down at his watch, which told him that the ball had indeed crossed the line, so it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Our second change saw Gelhardt coming on for Tyler Roberts, a switch that many of us would have made before kick-off. He tried a few more of his jinking runs, but Arsenal were very quick to surround him with defenders whenever he got the ball, so perhaps they have been spying on us by watching Match of the Day. In any case, he had less chance to make an impact as we struggled to get the ball to that end of the field in the second half. Things might have been different if he’d played in the first.
Each side was allowed five subs, and Bielsa’s next change was a bit of a strange one, with Llorente being replaced by Cooper. There wasn’t any obvious need to remove our most reliable defender, unless the Spaniard had yet another injury problem that we don’t know about. Although Cooper had an excellent game on Saturday, the events of the 69th minute gave his detractors on social media plenty more ammunition to have a pop at him.
Drameh intercepted an Arsenal move on the right, and headed back to Cooper, who intended to knock the ball back to Meslier. But unfortunately, he failed to get nearly enough power on his looping header, either because it came to him at a difficult height, or because he’d forgotten that Nketiah no longer plays for Leeds.
Our former loan star had the pace to get to the ball first as it dropped, then collect it on the byline after he’d knocked it over Meslier. He took a touch to steady himself, then his final shot bounced off his shin, but still curled in and crawled apologetically over the line just before Dallas could get back in his effort to clear it.
Bielsa responded to going two behind by sending on young Greenwood and Summerville for the last twenty minutes. While Arteta went the other way, introducing experienced first team regulars Tavares and Lacazette to close the game out and ensure their passage through to the last eight.
In true Bielsa style we kept going right to the end in our efforts to get back into the game, with the 5,000 Leeds fans at the other end doing their best to roar our young side on, but we didn’t manage to create any more outstanding chances. There were several shots from Harrison that were blocked, but that was about it.
And so we departed from the competition, and until January we will be free to concentrate on preserving our status in the Premier League. Yet Bielsa insisted that he had wanted a good run in this competition when he spoke to LUTV. “For me, it was a big hope to evolve in this competition. Within that, competing in this is attractive. To be eliminated of course, it is a big disappointment.”
And he also felt that Arsenal had closed the game out well once they had got themselves in front. “Clearly the differences between what happened in the first half and the second half were produced after the goal. When they scored they feel they can attack less and that allows them to defend better. When they stopped attacking and they decided to defend more it was difficult for us to take the ball into the opponents half.”
While young Drameh told LUTV “I am happy to make my first team debut, but we didn’t get the result and we got knocked out of the cup, so it is disappointing. At some stages it was a bit tough, at the start of the game there was maybe a bit of nerves, but I grew into it as the game went on. I think we could have got one or two goals in the first half if we had taken our chances, it was just a bit unfortunate. In the second half they got the two goals and that really killed it for us.”
So Drameh has staked his claim for a place in the starting line-up when we go to Norwich on Sunday. It would have been nice to have a good run the Carabao to build a bit of confidence, but that is the game we really need to win.
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