In a Premier League encounter that had everything except a goal Leeds United and 10-man Arsenal shared the spoils at Elland Road.
The Gunners were enduring a frustrating evening prior to Nicolas Pepe’s sending off, with the Ivorian given his marching orders for a headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski seven minutes after the restart. Leeds continued to press and probe but to no avail and Arsenal held firm at the back.
Mikel Arteta commented that facing Leeds was comparable with a ‘trip to the dentist’ when these sides met in the FA Cup back in January, which ended in a 1-0 home win for the Gunners. Well, this was another visit for the Spaniard, only this time he left with a toothache.
A point apiece keeps both sides in the bottom half of the table, but what did we learn from this pulsating encounter?
1. Kalvin Phillips the heartbeat of Bielsa-ball
Every club has that one player who is simply undroppable, and for Leeds that man is Kalvin Phillips. The 24-year-old England international had missed the previous three outings with a shoulder injury but returned this evening, and his presence exuded a confidence in Leeds as he orbited the centre circle, dictating play.
The metronomic midfielder operates as Bielsa’s conduit, linking midfield to attack by procuring the ball and recycling play. There are more explosive players on the pitch: Raphinha looked threatening ghosting into the box, while Rodrigo was lively upon his introduction. But, it was Phillips further back who kept play ticking over like clockwork.
He was the heartbeat of Leeds’ scintillating play this evening, making more passes than any player on the pitch (87) and more than triple that of Granit Xhaka (25), who was playing a similar role in front of defence in the opposing third.
Leeds can feel hard done by that the desired result was not forthcoming, but this was a much improved performance from the previous two matches (back-to-back 4-1 defeats), and it is no surprise that this impressive showing coincided with the reintroduction of Phillips: Leeds’ luxurious axis.
2. Willian’s worrying form contiues
Chelsea fans were lamenting the departure of Willian on matchday one after the seasoned Brazilian winger provided two sumptuous assists on his Premier League debut for Arsenal, who sunk a toothless Fulham in an opening-day 3-0 win. Nine games later and that narrative has taken a 180 spin.
Willian did not attempt a shot or create a chance in the first half against Leeds.
Replaced at half-time by Reiss Nelson. 🔄
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 22, 2020
Since that Craven Cottage salvo, Willian has failed to provide a single direct contribution, with the proceeding nine league games largely passing the 32-year-old by. His acquisition in the summer on a free transfer looked a masterstroke on paper, but his half-time withdrawal this evening was indicative of a player seemingly on the wane.
Granted Willian is not the only culprit of Arsenal’s misfortunes up front, and perhaps some leeway is permitted in