Graeme Souness described Leeds’ defense during their 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal as “field” football and described them as “absolute chaos” as the pressure mounted on coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Gabriel Martinelli scored a first-half brace as Arsenal clinched their third consecutive Premier League win with an impressive 4-1 win over the injury-affected hosts.
Leeds, in the midst of a string of grueling matches and a 7-0 defeat in a club record Premier League defeat in the middle of the week, were without nine top players through injury and suspension for what was the only Premier League game today due to the coronavirus. Outbreaks destroyed the rest of the fixture list.
But the result means Bielsa has overseen three successive defeats in the Premier League with 14 goals conceded in those matches. Arsenal scored 11 shots on target in the first half – the most ever scored by any team in the first 45 minutes in a single Premier League game.
Souness said, speaking during the first half when thinking about Leeds’ defense during the opening 45 minutes Sky Sports“If Leeds continues to be called upon to play like this, they will be in trouble.
“I just don’t know how you can expect your players to play like this. For a second Martinelli, a dramatic cody runs forward into Ravenha’s space and doesn’t feel dangerous. I don’t want to be harsh with him, but he should look over his shoulder and see Martinelli.”
“Leeds didn’t quite have the ball. Leeds play as if they were on the school field. Leeds is an absolute mess.”
Speaking after the match, Souness concluded: “The Arsenal game will not be easier at all this year. In the first half, they could have scored six or seven goals. Leeds were very disjointed and making defensive decisions that required some understanding. Their foot fell off the accelerator in The second half and easily won.
“That’s what baffles me about the game tonight. We keep talking about the young players, but I’m not sure if it’s just the young players doing their jobs tonight because some of the decisions that the big players are making… It’s all about trying to play. They’re not as good as they are. It’s enough for better football teams to play and they say ‘we’ll beat you 4-3 tonight’.
“If I was a Leeds fan I would be worried about the kind of football they play because they are at risk. At the start of the season it was 6-1 at United and they lost 7-0 this week. Leeds play a kind of football which means they can always change their style. The big one is the best team.
“I want to ask Mr Bielsa if you ever meet him – what is most important to you? Is it the style of football you want to play and to stand up front, which is impressive, or is it to win football matches?
“And I think I know the answer. More important to him is the way they play than the score. If the fans are behind him in the end, maybe that’s the answer.”
“I’m just worried that you’re asking players who aren’t good enough to play like Barcelona 10 or 12 years ago. A lot of coaches are guilty of that, but it takes it to another level.”
Neville: Leeds are the U9s
It was clear that Robin Koch was asked to take on a man-to-man defense over Alexandre Lacazette, but this only left room for Martin Odegaard to exploit in building Saka to extend Arsenal’s lead with a half-time strike.
Gary Neville said in his role as co-commentator Sky Sports“It’s not for me to talk about Bielsa’s way of playing in the match, but I don’t have that against Lacazette.
“If that’s a great player up front, he could turn around and touch the ball and run towards you – Messi or someone like that – you might go and follow him and watch him.
“But not Lacazette. He drags the Leeds center back all over and leaves holes for others to fill, but they cannot fill.”
“They’re a mess, Leeds. Arsenal were really good and took advantage of it. I don’t see the point of Koch chasing Lacazette all over the field and leaving so much for the rest of the defenders to do.
“Like I said, it’s like the U9s are defending. Five or six of them are trying to save the same ball at once.”
Leeds injury from the heart of the team
Arsenal, who returned to the top four after back-to-back wins over Southampton and West Ham, threatened to attack in front of a revised Leeds squad and could have gone more than 3-0 ahead in the first half.
Martinelli’s double led Arsenal 2-0 in 28 minutes and when Bukayo Saka added the third goal just before the break, Leeds looked ready to smash another.
But Bielsa’s team improved significantly after the break and reduced the difference through a penalty by Ravenha before substitute Emile Smith Rowe finally tried to eliminate any faint hopes of a comeback.
Leeds, who face Liverpool at Anfield on Boxing Day, are five points above the relegation zone, but 18th-placed Burnley have three games in hand.
Former club striker Jermaine Pickford said: Sky Sports: “We’ve touched on it before, but there were only injuries to the main players on the way straight from the team. These injuries are at the heart of the team and it’s pretty much a normal start.
“He was very frustrated from the point of view of them being a threat in the final third and from a defensive point of view, they were all over the place.
“It was very easy for Alexandre Lacazette to lose his player. Robin Koch followed him everywhere, leaving gaps in the middle of the defence. The Arsenal winger made good use of Leeds.”
Leeds have just 16 points from 18 Premier League games this season, the lowest number of points they have earned at this point in a league season in their history (turned to three points per win ever), and the same level with 2006/07 in championship.
“You have to put up with the frustration,” he said when asked if he was in the midst of his biggest test as Leeds president.
“You have to be very convinced of the way you are going to absorb these kinds of moments. There are examples that come out that are very valuable.
“For example, Robin Koch was ready to come back today after a four-month absence, and this post wasn’t in perfect shape. Despite that, he chose to play. Regardless, the game didn’t beat him up. Stewart Dallas took a lot of hits today. , and yet he finished the game as Raphinha.”
Bielsa was asked to explain the problems his team caused themselves during the first half.
The Argentine added: “If we lose the ball before we reach the opponent’s half or we lose it close to where to recover it, we increase the offensive possibilities of the opponent. We allow actions that can upset our balance and can be avoided if we want to be able to reach the half of the opponent.”
“In the first half we didn’t manage to solve this and create more chances for Arsenal to score. In the second half we improved our ball recovery, but we never managed to get them to make mistakes.
“In the first half, we made a lot of effort so that the attackers did not receive the ball comfortably, and the attackers did not receive chances that were very clear. But when we lost the ball in the middle of the field or closer to our goal, this increased their odds.
“There has never been any question as to whether this match will go ahead. We have had a string of injuries added by Diego Llorente’s illness and Charlie Cresswell’s injury, but there are no rules to stop the match due to injuries or a suspension.”
Arteta: Martinelli has come a long way
There is greater consistency at Arsenal, which is reflected in three consecutive wins and Arteta named the same starting line-up in four consecutive Premier League games for the first time in six games between April and May 2015.
Arteta said, “It was a great performance from the boys [the game plan] Against a team that is uncomfortable to play against. We had three matches a week, very physical matches. I am so happy.
“We had some intentions. I think the players understood the game really well. We were really effective and in the first half we were really good. I think we deserved those three wins and we’re really happy.”
Arteta reserved special praise for Martinelli, who eased himself off the season after his efforts at the Tokyo Olympics with Brazil.
Having scored four goals in his last six games, Arteta said: “We see the player every day, so we know when to use him based on whether he’s in the right state of mind.
“He’s come a long way. His energy and passion are there, but there are other aspects he had to develop like the opportunities he had today, and he had to put them away. He’s going in the right direction.”