Leeds United need to keep their heads while all around applaud them

Kalvin Phillips leaves Mesut Ozil in his shadows (Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Kalvin Phillips leaves Mesut Ozil in his shadows (Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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With so much media attention on the all-powerful Premier League, a relaxing Monday night on the sofa at the end of the day many returned to work after Christmas will have provided the chance to see what all the fuss over Leeds United is about.

Even though the Whites took their leave of the FA Cup at the first hurdle, it is hard to imagine many BBC viewers being unimpressed.

Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil (L) runs away from Leeds United's English midfielder Kalvin Phillips (R). (Picture: Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil (L) runs away from Leeds United's English midfielder Kalvin Phillips (R). (Picture: Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

For the first 45 minutes, Leeds played with a verve, tenacity and style that would only add to The Greatest League in the World™, just as the passion of their noisy travelling supporters brought something to Arsenal’s beautiful but largely lifeless stadium.

A collection of players many of the more casual viewers would not have heard of passed last season’s Europa League finalists off the pitch, showing a courage to play the ball in tight areas. There was industry to go with the ingenuity, Mateusz Klich hurrying about closing down much-feted midfielders with the energy of a child who had eaten too many Smarties.

Ben White and Jack Harrison showed why they are contracted to Premier League clubs, Illan Meslier and Robbie Gotts looked no more like debutants than Barry Douglas did a left-back largely overlooked this season. Luke Ayling and Ezgjan Alioski added to the thrust down the wings, while Kalvin Phillips calmly anchored midfield, keeping quiet Arsenal’s World Cup winning maverick Mesut Ozil.

If the Gunners stepped it up in the second half, it was only what was to be expected of a star-studded line-up with pay packets to match. They still only won 1-0.

It is why Phillips, like his experienced head coach, was refusing to get carried away by half a performance even as impressive as that.

Stuart Rayner

The reality is, though, it was no more than an exhibition by Marcelo Bielsa’s side.

The four months of hard graft ahead will be very different to Monday night.

It is why Phillips, like his experienced head coach, was refusing to get carried away by half a performance even as impressive as that.

Leeds have a history of raising hopes only to dash them, after all.

“We have still got to go and do it,” pointed out the midfielder, who was part of the side which set off at an impressive pace last season only to hit the wall 
before the finish line came into sight.

“There are many games left in the Championship (20), we can’t blow our trumpet now.

“We have got to wait until the last game of the season when it is either done or it isn’t and hopefully it is.”

Bielsa was keen and quite correct at full-time to point out it would be wrong to draw conclusions about his team’s readiness for the Premier League on the back of one game, but Mikel Arteta’s decision to choose almost his full-strength team allowed 
the Leeds players to test themselves.

“You always want to play against the best teams,” said Phillips.

“It’s just a matter of going out there and wanting to prove that you are just as good as them and I think together as a team and 
personally I thought I did very well.

“I don’t think that (impressing people) is the real thing that drives us, it’s for ourselves and for the city.

“We will be very flattered with the comments that the pundits have said but hopefully we can keep our heads down and carry on.”

Phillips is right, there is no need for Leeds to blow their own trumpet.

There were plenty queuing up to do it for them.

An attention-seeking run in the FA Cup is no longer an 
option.

The much less glamorous job of grinding out a promotion, however they do it, is all that matters to a club whose Premier League exile is starting to feel like a life sentence.