Arsenal v Leeds United: ‘Perfect 10’ is unwanted record for Whites

NOTHING conveys the extent of Leeds United’s decline this season more than their form against the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six.’

The numbers are pretty startling.

In 12 top-flight matches in 2020-21 against tomorrow’s opponents Arsenal, Chelsea – who visit Elland Road on Wednesday – Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds won twice, drew five times and lost on five occasions.

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As a newly-promoted side, it was a very laudable feat. Sides fresh out of the Championship are simply not supposed to do that.

Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch. Picture: Simon Hulme

Moreso given that no big-hitter came away from Leeds with three points either, with clean sheets recorded on home soil against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Alongside United, Leeds were the only other side not to be beaten by runaway champions City home or away in the league last term. City won the league by 12 points.

This season, Leeds’s top-six record is consistent in its ineptitude. Played 10, lost 10. Seven goals scored and 42 conceded, in comparison to 15 goals scored and 24 conceded in 20-21.

What is past is now past and head coach Jesse Marsch can only deal in the present and ensure spirits don’t sink.

Leeds United's Stuart Dallas. Picture: PA

He said: “I think our group has a very strong belief in themselves. Since I’ve been here, we’ve tried to ease the pressure of every moment and enjoy the process more and still then be ready to go out and compete for everything on match day and execute a match plan that gives us a chance to pick up points.

“In many ways, even with the Man City game, I was very pleased with that process and the way we played.

“But, you know, against the best opponents you have to be really, really good on the day.

“The margin of error is so thin, and we have to find a way to be razor sharp. So that will again be the emphasis going into this game against Arsenal.”

If relegation-threatened Leeds are to secure a victory in one of their next two games against exalted opposition – a famous late-season win at Arsenal in 2003 might provide inspiration in that regard – its psychological importance will be clear.

It would instantly change the narrative in the media and among the club’s supporters in these social media-driven times of overreaction and excess when every win is greeted with euphoria and every loss is viewed as something akin to a disaster.

It is Marsch’s job to somehow find the middle ground. Be positive, but also grounded when victories arrive and focused and calm when the bad results come.

Last weekend’s loss to City was compounded by wins for Burnley and Everton, with Marsch assigned with blanking out the background noise and turning the page with his players when they reconvened at Thorp Arch.

He said: “I think it is normal after results and maybe things going for or against us to have emotions attached.

“But by the time we get to work and get on the pitch and start talking about what we want the weekend to look like or the next match, there’s clarity and not a lot of tension.

“It is normal for everyone to have different responses to results that do not go our way or do. The work and the focus on work has been phenomenal and a real strength of ours so far.

“It is eliminating the emotion and continuing to focus on our ability and discipline to have concentration to what is important for us.

“I know from a media perspective people like to write about the emotion of football and what’s happening and the momentum or this or that and what people are saying.

“When you have been in this business a long time, the job is about preparing to perform and to eliminate things such as media which get in the way of doing our jobs. We have a lot of good pros here and understand that.”

Marsch, sensibly, is not about to make public declarations about safety points targets either or indulge in a spot of mind games with any relegation rival. He has enough on his plate to concern himself with anything like that.”

“I have no idea what it will take (to stay up). I have been asked this many times,” he commented.

“All I care about is focusing on each match. Right now, that’s squarely on Arsenal.”

Fourth-from-bottom Leeds take the field tomorrow at the same time as Everton. The Blues, who occupy the final relegation spot and are one place and two points behind United with a game in hand, visit Leicester City.

For their part, Burnley can steal a march of both relegation rivals at home to Aston Villa today. But Marsch is too preoccuiped to stress about events at Turf Moor, which he ultimately cannot control.

He said: “I guess the advantage is if you get the result, it puts the pressure on who play after you.

“But going into the last match, I don’t think we even knew what the (other) results were, going in.

“If you lose (playing first), it can be a disadvantage. The key is to do everything you can to control your own results.”

Strong players and characters can be priceless at this time of year and Leeds must make do without one of their leading lieutenants in Stuart Dallas.

The Northern Ireland international is now convalescing after suffering a femoral fracture last weekend. He underwent surgery this week and will start the long road to recovery shortly.

Marsch said: “They say it will be a long recovery, but believe he will have a full recovery. He has had 400 to 500 messages from family and friends and we know that he is loved and this moment proves it more than anything.

“I don’t want to speak for Stuart, but know he has been very appreciative of so many people reaching out and extending their concerns and love towards him.

“I think we can safely say it will be six months (out), but it could be longer.

“Stuart is such a big part of the group and a fantastic person and player. I think he had the ongoing consecutive record for so many matches and is also an ‘iron man’. Stuart will be back stronger than ever.”

Leeds require a few more iron men to step up to the plate if they are to still be a Premier League club come the evening of May 22. Here’s hoping.