IT was all going so well for newly promoted Leeds United. After 16 years in exile the Yorkshire giants celebrated their return to the big time with back-to-back seven-goal thrillers. If these games confirmed – to scant surprise – that Marcelo Bielsa’s men were going to be highly entertaining to watch this season, what came next revealed they had the mettle and quality to thrive.
A ground-out victory at Bramall Lane was swiftly followed by a negation of Manchester City. Even a disappointing loss to Wolves wasn’t cause enough for concern – in the strange environs of 2020 nobody is capable of stringing together consistent results anymore. An impressive dismissal of Aston Villa – courtesy of a Patrick Bamford hat-trick – later elevated them into sixth spot.
Bamford is 9/5 to score any time against Arsenal this weekend. For a striker in such a rich vein of form, these odds should not be overlooked.
Only then came consecutive 4-1 defeats to Leicester and Crystal Palace and teams with sincere top ten aspirations don’t tend to capitulate by such margins twice-over inside a week. Indeed, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to ship in four can be put down to misfortune, to do so again smacks of carelessness. Now a new narrative has formed and been allowed to ferment in the minds of players and media alike across the international break. Having already conceded just shy of half of their entire total from last term, the Leeds rear-guard suddenly appears to be vulnerable and suspect.
To put that into startling context the last occasion Leeds leaked so often at this stage of a top flight campaign was all the way back in 1946 and this is why the probable return, ahead of schedule, of midfield enforcer Kalvin Phillips is such a significant fillip ahead of this Sunday’s clash. A redoubtable presence in midfield, the England international is key to his side’s frenetic style of play, offering assurance where it is most needed. It’s no coincidence Leeds have lost half of the 12 games he has missed since the beginning of 2019/20.
Further encouragement comes in the form of their record signing Rodrigo, who is available again after testing positive for Covid, while their opponents also offer hope because the last thing a porous defence lacking in any confidence wants to encounter is a team who create chances for fun. Arsenal, at present, are anything but that.
A shot-shy Gunners are 5/2 to score under 0.5 goals. As you’ll soon see, this is a tempting proposition.
Because Mikel Arteta’s 11 months in charge at the Emirates evokes the riddle of the fox, chicken and a sack of grain with a river to cross. When the Spaniard initially took the helm his most pressing remit was to install some solidity at the back, a base from which to build on, and he has certainly done that with the Gunners looking uncharacteristically miserly this term. Only this has come at the cost of creativity at the other end. In fact, so short are they of ideas in the final third that it’s become one of the biggest talking points across football of late. It’s led to Gooners questioning Arteta’s credentials. It’s led to Arsenal being deprived of the one area of play they have been able to take for granted for so long.
Deploying Aubameyang out wide hardly helps matters nor does the baffling decision to regularly leave Dani Ceballos out. Ceballos can at least statistically hold his own in the chances he makes. For the record Arsenal have managed just four shots on target in their last 180 minutes of Premier League football suggesting their problem is only worsening.
For inspiration on how to address this issue they need look no further than their opponents at Elland Road because if Leeds are currently struggling at the back they remain a constant threat going forward. In those first seven games detailed above Bielsa’s side amassed more shots than anyone other than Liverpool while Patrick Bamford is enjoying a purple patch that has seen him net seven times in eight appearances. The 27-year-old has been directly involved in a goal every 74 minutes.
All of which almost demands that there will be goals in this fixture because simply put, when a dangerous attack comes up against an organised defence, while at the other end a haphazard defence tangles with a toiling forward-line something, somewhere, has to give.
It is worth bearing in mind however, that both sides have a propensity to improve after the break. Arsenal have scored six of their nine goals in the latter stages. Similarly, Leeds have scored nine of their 14 in the second period.
Perhaps then, from all of the possible connotations that might arise from this fascinating clash it’s the 37/20 available for both teams to score in the second half that stands out above all others.
Latest odds: Leeds United (11/5) Draw (14/5) Arsenal (23/20). For all Leeds United vs Arsenal markets, click here.
Tips: Both teams to score in the second half (37/20), Patrick Bamford to score any time (9/5)