|Leeds United 1 v 4 Arsenal|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 18th December 2021 Kick-off 17:30
Leeds suffer another torrid evening against Arsenal
Sunday, 19th Dec 2021 09:49 by Tim Whelan
Another game, four more injuries and four more goals conceded, as Leeds suffered another heavy defeat, this time at the hands of Arsenal.
There were four enforced changes for Marcello Bielsa to make to his starting line-up. James and Shackelton were out with injuries sustained in the defeat by Man City on Tuesday night, and today we learned that Llorente has a problem that will take at least ten days to recover from. Firpo was the fourth absentee, in his case through suspension.
Young Charlie Cresswell was expected to deputise, that is until Friday when he suffered a dislocated shoulder. In the midst of all this mayhem we did at least have Robin Koch back from his own lengthy absence, but circumstances dictated that he had to go straight back into the side before he’d got back to the usual level of Bielsa fitness.
Ayling had to continue in the centre, while Drameh made his first Premier League start. With all the Covid cases going round, we might have had hopes of this game being postponed until a day when our injury list has eased up, but no such luck. The weather valiantly tried to help out with a lot of mist over Elland Road during the afternoon, but unfortunately it had mostly cleared by the 5.30 kick-off.
There was a great atmosphere as Leeds kicked off, with the fans determined to get behind Macello Bielsa’s team after the disappointment of Tuesday night. And the team made a lively start, forcing a corner inside the first minute, with Ayling complaining he had been blocked off as he attempted to get to it.
But Arsenal had the first clear chance of the game, Saka somehow managing to put a rebound wide of the post when he seemed certain to score. But that was only a temporary respite, as the Gunners took the lead in the 16th minute. Their break seemed to have ended when Forshaw took possession after a possible foul just outside the box. The ref waved play on, but as Forshaw took the ball out of defence Lacazette managed to nip in, and Martinelli seized on the loose ball to fire it into the top corner.
Our best chance of the first half came when Forshaw played a through ball to set Raphinha racing down the right. He ignored the option of playing the ball to Gelhardt, and opted to take the shot himself, as Arsenal’s defenders tried to stop him cutting inside and shooting with his left. He managed to get his shot away, but dragged it just wide of the near post.
But Arsenal were still dominating possession, and Meslier’s positioning had to be spot on to deal with powerful shots from Tierney and Partey. Our defence was looking wide open far too open, and in the 28th minute Koch was caught out of position following Lacazette downfield when Dallas lost possession on our left. Xhaka played a superb ball through to Martinelli, who produced his second excellent finish of the game, chipping the ball over Meslier to put Arsenal further in front.
The last thing we needed was to suffer any more injuries, but on the half-hour mark Harrison had to hobble off, to be replaced by Summerville . His injury was later described as just a knock, so hopefully he’ll be back on Boxing Day. Shortly afterwards Lacazette was played on the left of the six-yard box, but Meslier spread himself well to keep out the shot.
There was also an incident when play was stopped as the Arsenal bench complained to the referee about one of their substitutes allegedly being racially abused as he warmed up along the touchline. Apparently there was only one person involved and today we learned that someone has been arrested, so I’m sure that individual’s conduct can be investigated and we don’t need to have the reputation of the whole club dragged into dispute.
But just as it looked like we would get to half time with only a two goal deficit, Saka extended the lead, and this time we could consider ourselves unfortunate with the way the goal went in. There seemed to be sufficient defenders on hand as the young Arsenal striker twisted his way into the box, but his shot took a cruel deflection off Klich and spun into the net.
The second half was a quieter affair, perhaps because Arsenal decided to protect the lead they already had rather than continuing to press forward. We had a few chances that fell to Roberts, but he sent one shot straight into the arms of Ramsdale and another two well over the bar. By now referee Andre Marriner was getting on the nerves of the home crowd.
First he declined to book Martinelli for preventing Klich from taking a free-kick, the same offence that caused Jiminez of Wolves to get his second yellow in a game last week. Xhaka also escaped a booking for a dangerous challenge on Raphinha, but Gelhardt was booked for a tackle that looked no worse. Finally, when it looked like he’d given a free kick in a position where Raphinha would have fancied a shot, he surprised everyone by waving play on.
Saka came close to increasing our embarrassment with a shot that went just past the far post, but Leeds at last got a foothold in the game with 15 minutes remaining, with a favour from one of our old boys. After a neat one-two a dangerous run towards the by-line from Gelhardt was rudely interrupted by a late challenge from Ben White, and Raphinha stepped up to sent a powerful penalty right into the top corner.
For a while it looked like Leeds could possibly grab a result in the closing stages, and I was cursing Arsenal’s lucky third goal, as I would have fancied up to get a draw had it only been 2-1. Bielsa freshened things up by replacing Klich with Greenwood for the latter’s Premier League debut, and then a substitute was substituted himself, as McCarron came on for Summerville.
But Arsenal killed off any hopes of a comeback with a fourth goal in the 84th. With Leeds still chasing the game there was plenty of space at the back, and when a fine through ball picked out Smith-Rowe, the Arsenal sub took the opportunity to hammer his shot past Meslier into the corner of the net.
The Leeds fans continued to roar the team on right to the end, and even after the final whistle, but the efforts of the 12th man were in vain as Leeds went down to another defeat and more serious damage to our goal difference.
With no other Premier League games played yesterday we remain five points above the dreaded 18th place, but Burnley now have three games in hand. You wouldn’t expect them to win them all, but this still leaves us in a precarious position. And next up we have a Boxing Day trip to play Liverpool at Anfield, though this might depend on the decision taken at tomorrow’s Premier League meeting about the growing Covid crisis.
Is it wrong to hope for a short break in the season which would allow some of our injured players to recover before our next game?
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