Arsenal Have Serious Issues to Address – But Resilience Against Leeds Will Please Mikel Arteta

Bernd Leno, Gabriel
Bernd Leno and Gabriel embrace each other after keeping a clean sheet | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Clinging on for a draw against a newly-promoted side that has conceded eight goals in their last two games is far from an era-defining result, but given the circumstances in Sunday evening’s 0-0 draw with Leeds United, Mikel Arteta will take it.

The stalemate may have made it just one win in five for Arsenal, and the pressure on the Spaniard will have intensified as a result, but against a vibrant Leeds side who charged forward with increasing danger throughout, the Gunners’ resolve came to the fore – and this is what will please Arteta the most.

His side were underwhelming at best, and yet, after Nicolas Pepe’s brainless headbutt on Ezgjan Alioski left them fighting with ten against 11, Arsenal displayed a formidable resilience to hold out for a draw.

Leeds certainly had their chances – Rodrigo cannoning an effort off the crossbar in the second half, Patrick Bamford and Raphinha hitting the post after that – and were, by all measures, by far the better side. But to end a turbulent fortnight with a backs-against-the wall display away from home (not that it matters too much these days) provides Arteta with a platform for growth.

That’s not to say the performance offered much encouragement – far from it. The challenge for Arsenal against a Leeds side that often leaves itself exposed defensively was whether they could move the ball forward quickly in transition, something they haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. Too often Arsenal have been ponderous and passive in possession, failing to construct the purposeful attacking moves that would allow them to unleash the quality of their star forwards.

Much, too, has been made of Arteta’s decision to play captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left side of Arsenal’s front three, with the Gabonese international appearing increasingly marginalised as games have passed by. And yet, restored to the striking berth today, it was a similar story of isolation.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Luke AylingPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Luke Ayling
Aubameyang tussles for the ball with Ayling | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Aubameyang is a player who thrives on the counter-attack, running in-behind, yet rarely did Arsenal have the awareness and quality on the ball to exploit this route. They looked clunky and disjointed in their passing going forward, seldom able to construct any meaningful interplay together. The contrast between them and Leeds – who dazzled with their football at times and amassed 25 shots on goal – was sharp.

Through a combination of luck, Bernd Leno, and the woodwork, Arsenal held out, even if a goal seemed inevitable as Bielsa’s men peppered the visitors’ goal late on. The Argentine will rue his side’s profligacy, but it is Arteta with the more pressing issues to address.

This was another dour attacking display, one devoid of any real enterprise until the lively Bukayo Saka was unleashed. Arsenal remain rooted in the bottom half, this being the fifth time in six games that they have failed to score against English opposition. Arteta needs to find a solution, and if European dreams are to be kept alive, he needs to do so fast.

That said, the Pepe red card did not help. For someone like Arteta who strives every day to impress values of discipline and honesty onto his players, it is moments like this that draw the hairdryer treatment, not poor performances. “It’s unacceptable,” he vented in his post-match interview with Sky Sports.

He did, however, recognise the positive response from his team: “I really liked the personality of the team, how we suffered together after Pepe let the team down and stuck to what we do and even believed we could win the game. It was a matter of defending well, staying patient and using the spaces they are leaving.

“We have to take it,” he concluded. After a performance like that, they sure do.

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