Leeds United 0 Arsenal 0 - Luck deserts United as Gunners left off the hook
Three times they hit the woodwork, including in the fifth added minute. Arsenal hit it once too, but down to 10 men for the final 38 minutes, Mikel Arteta would have been pleased to return from this trip to the dentist without his team being filled in.
Kieran Tierney felt aggrieved, going after Ezgjan Alioski – the man Nicolas Pepe was sent off for head-butting – after the final whistle, but the Gunners could have no-one but their winger to blame for having to play a man short.
Not for the first time under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds will be wondering how they let their opponents off the hook in a 0-0 draw.
There were a fair number of missed chances by the Whites, and they need to improve their finishing but Rodrigo, Patrick Bamford and Raphinha all came as close as it is possible to without scoring. The improvement needed is very minor, if important.
In January, Arteta compared facing Leeds to a trip to the orthodontist, and Bielsa’s side drilled away at them without manage to extract the goal they needed.
Raphinha was making his full debut for the Whites, preferred to the benched Helder Costa, and he made a big impression. The Brazilian likes to cut inside a lot for a Leeds winger, but did it to good effect, getting in shots, a wonderful pass to Jack Harrison and even an important tackle. He might not have given Luke Ayling the support he would have hoped for defensively, but he was thrilling to watch.
On paper, the central midfield had a more conservative look without the injured Pablo Hernandez and Rodrigo, eased back from the bench after coronavirus, but Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich were in good form. The former fizzed the ball into the latter after six minutes and Klich laid it off for Raphinha, again in no danger of getting chalk on his boots. At the decisive moment he slipped, and ballooned the ball wide.
Despite Raphinha’s brilliance, Leeds became even more threatening down the left, and when Arsenal left-back Tierney’s 13th-minute cross went nowhere near a team-mate, Alioski and Harrison sprang into action but when the North Macedoinian pulled the ball back, Bamford stabbed it at Bernd Leno.
In the 28th minute, Raphinha did brilliantly to lay the ball off as Granit Xhaka thundered in, but could not give the move the finish it deserved when it was worked out to Alioski, and back into him.
Bamford had a reaction volley saved after Ayling and Klich linked brilliantly, the full-back’s cross dropping to him from Gabriel’s thigh.
Dallas pulled a great chance horribly wide from Harrison’s cross, the fit-again Kalvin Phillips, Klich and Ayling shot over as Leeds cranked up the first-half pressure.
Pepe had a cross which came off the crossbar after twisting Ayling inside and out in the 21st minute and a few minutes later Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, in a rare outing down the middle, shot over from a tight and acute angle but it was the last seen of the Gunners – watched from the stands by former player and Leeds manager David O’Leary – until Pepe’s curling effort wide just before the break.
Alioski had undoubtedly practised a few dark arts when marking winger Pepe, but top players have to be above the sort of retaliation which saw him plant his head on the left-back’s in the 52nd minute. Off the ball, he might have got away it but for the video assistant referee. It was nice of Stuart Atwell to ask referee Anthony Taylor to consult his monitor, but really he did not need to.
For a while it actually seemed to help Arsenal, simplifying their gameplan as Leeds laboured to break them down, even if Leno had to save brilliantly from Dalas when Raphinha cut inside and picked him out.
In substitute Rodrigo they had the inspiration they needed. He had been held back as a substitute on his 70th-minute return from coronavirus but introduced in central midfield he instantly played two brilliant passes – the first leading to a Raphinha shot blocked, Bamford slipping from the second but the ball kept alive for the former to cross and the latter to head wide.
Rodrigo smashed one shot just over, another onto the crossbar from a brilliant pass from the excellent Robin Koc. When he won the ball back in the 84th minute, fellow substitute Ian Poveda shot at the goalkeeper.
Bamford headed a Poveda cross against the post, prompting an anguished cry of “Come on Leeds, come on Leeds, come on Leeds!” from Victor Orta’s seat, and when Rodrigo flicked another right-wing cross on, Raphinha headed against it too.
Arsenal were improved by a substitution too. Bukayo Saka had a heavy workload with England but he came on in the post-Pepe reorganisation and glided past Ayling shortly after doing so. In fact, the left-winger was behind all the Gunners’ dangerous counter-attacks in his half-hour cameo before his own injury. Gareth Southgate will be anxious that he makes a good recovery.
Although it was the only real work he had to do all day, goalkeeper Illan Meslier was nevertheless forced to make an excellent save in the 85th minute when Saka tried to take the ball around him, the 20-year-old staying patient, then stretching out to deny him.
Despite that, though, Leeds were excellent and deserved more than the point they had to settle for. It is a habit they need to break.
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