A LESSON IN PRESSING
Our determination was not at the required level in the first half on Monday, but credit to Leeds for handing out a lesson in pressing. It comes from Marco Bielsa of course, the revered Argentinian coach who inspired Pep Guardiola with his work with Argentina, Chile, Athletic Bilbao and Marseille before heading to Leeds. "Playing Leeds is like going to the dentist. It's tough, and nobody likes it," said Arteta after the game. The first-half stats were certainly alarming from our perspective: we were outshot by 15 to three, surrendered 67 per cent of the possession and lost the ball frequently enough to drag our passing accuracy down as low as 70 per cent. Ahead of the game, Arteta praised how Bielsa "makes his players fight and challenge and run and compete, and never give up in any game or any circumstances." We saw that in spades on Monday.
A GENTLE REMINDER
Suffice to say that the game was changed by Arteta's less than gentle half-time reminder about what he expects from his players. In the second half we had 13 shots to Leeds' three and levelled up those wonky possession stats. Guendouzi took charge in midfield, ending the game with a team-high 10 possessions gained and five tackles won. But that was echoed throughout the team, as the intensity that our head coach demands climbed to acceptable levels. Arteta's anger was eventually replaced by pride, but if his expectations weren't clear before, they undoubtedly are now.
When the teams were announced it looked like Arteta had opted for a back three of Sokratis, Holding and David Luiz, with Nelson and Kolasinac at wing back. That theory lasted as long as it took for the teams to line up ahead of kick-off. It was our usual back-four formation with Sokratis in an unfamiliar role on the right. He was given a stiff examination with Alioski drifting left to take up space in between Sokratis and Holding, while Douglas pushed on from left back. Sokratis saw a lot of the ball and was put under pressure every time, but he was imperious in the air, winning four of his first five headers. Amid the storm, the Greece defender turned to our fans and gestured them to calm down as they urged him to take a quick free-kick. He was proved right - Sokratis and the rest were a different prospect after the break, and our auxiliary full back ended up on the winning side.
Our previous FA Cup tie against Leeds also finished 1-0. It was back in 2012, that famous night when Thierry Henry came off the bench to score a dramatic goal on his return to the club. Reiss Nelson will be the first to admit that his winner was rather more scruffy - he didn't get the contact he wanted when Lacazette's deflected low cross reached him at the far post. But he did enough to score and, in FA Cup terms, his goal is no less important than Henry's. It's Nelson's second competitive goal for us, and after being on the fringes of the side he's emerging as a significant weapon in Arteta's attacking armoury.
Our kick-off against Leeds came at the unusual time of 7.56pm. That's because, as part of the Heads Up campaign, all third-round games were delayed by one minute to encourage fans to think about mental health. The conversation around mental health has grown significantly in recent years, but mental health problems remain one of the biggest issues in society. Indeed, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
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