Leeds United travelled to Arsenal in the third round of the English FA Cup. Leeds were placed in the top two in the English Championship with Arsenal mid table with the arrival of new manager Mikel Arteta.

In this short analysis video we examine how Leeds take the game to Arsenal with an exceptional display out of possession especially in the first half. The clips in the video are only from the first 15 minutes but the trend carried on throughout.

What was so impressive?

When a team from a league below play higher level opposition the general tactic is to drop off, concede possession and wait for the moment to counter attack or score from a set piece. So when Leeds reversed these tactics and got success from it even without scoring it was refreshing to see. The game plan set out by Bielsa was very clear to see. Leeds adopted a 4-3-3 against the Arsenal 4-2-3-1 which is a good match up tactically with the Leeds 2 advanced midfielders Gotts (36) & Klich (43) being able to go man for man high up the pitch against the two holding midfielders and the CDM Phillips (23) picking up Ozil (10) who started to drop deeper further away from the goal as he wasn’t getting enough possession.

Why would Bielsa choose to press Arsenal?

  • His own philosophy – His team like to be on the front foot, pressing high up the pitch and “getting in the faces”. When a coach has a clear style with a huge belief in their own players it becomes hard to change for a one off game. Does changing the style show your players that you fear the opposition?
  • Arsenal’s previous performances – They hadn’t been on a good run in the Premier League with a lack of wins which had led to the change in management. This means a lack of confidence which with pressure can be really tested. If a team is allowed to build passes together they can gain confidence and really grow as the game develops.
  • What’s to lose? A one off game against a Premier League team with the odds against them makes it inviting to have a “free hit”. Leeds flying high in the championship with their own way of playing maybe felt they cause Arsenal just as many problems.

Another impressive component of the display out of possession from Leeds was their alignment as a unit/team. Every single player knew their roles and responsibilities when defending. Why does this matter? Pressing as a team is imperative to regain possession high up the pitch rather than trying to press as an individual or unit. It was led from the front players with the centre forward Bamford (9) with excellent body shape and angle of approach to cut off passing lanes across the pitch denying the switch of play. This allowed the players behind to go tight and be aggressive against their opponent.

The wide players Alioski (10) & Harrison (22) pushed on against the Arsenal centre half at times too to make a 4-4-2 shape. The concentration was spot on with each player being aware of the ball and the direction of the pass. Once the ball was played backwards this was the trigger to press and force play back to the Arsenal goal. Another key trend was for the Leeds centre halves to be very aggressive against the centre forward Lacazette (9) looking to step in front to intercept or go tight and prevent the turn forcing him into deeper areas of the pitch.

What was missing from the Leeds performance?

GOALS!! Simply the stat that has the most importance is the scoreline. Leeds had plenty of opportunities to score but failed to take them. When playing against a higher ranked team or any team in fact you have to take the chances and score when on top. The game changes when the scoreline does. Do Arsenal commit more bodies forward, do they change their style to more direct? Either way gaps will start to appear as the game goes, the crowd will get onto their own players, will this make them nervous? It shouldn’t take away how good the performance was though but Bielsa might feel it was a missed opportunity to beat Arsenal.