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Arsenal struggle to control games away from the Emirates Stadium, while Leeds will persevere with their attack-minded strategy come what may.
Back over 3.5 goals at Elland Road (+160)
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Arsenal are the Premier League’s equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde. When they are playing at the Emirates Stadium, Mikel Arteta’s side are a force to be reckoned with. No team in the division has taken more points on their own patch than Arsenal, with Chelsea and Crystal Palace the only visiting sides to deny them victory. Back-to-back home wins against Southampton and West Ham United in recent days have bolstered Arsenal’s ambitions of a top-four finish.
The problem for the Gunners is that their next two matches will not be played at the Emirates. Granted, trips to Elland Road and Carrow Road are not among the most difficult in the Premier League, with Norwich City and Leeds United both struggling for form. But Arsenal have been mediocre at best on the road this term. With just two wins in eight away games, their points return on their travels is not even among the top 10 in the league.
Therein lies the problem. Even if they maintain their excellent record at home, Arsenal are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League unless they improve at opposition stadiums. Their next two trips will be instructive. If Arsenal collect six points from six against Leeds and Norwich, they will go into the New Year full of optimism. If they underwhelm and fall to a defeat or two, the goodwill generated by consecutive triumphs at the Emirates will quickly evaporate.
Arsenal are clearly moving in the right direction and failing to finish in the top four this season would not be disastrous. Yet Arteta’s players must show that they are able to impose themselves on away games. That takes character and personality as well as soccer ability. Saturday’s match will give an indication of whether Arsenal really are ready to challenge for fourth place.
Leeds finished ninth last season. That was a terrific achievement for a team that had only just been promoted back to the Premier League. Ahead of the current campaign, many predicted Leeds would challenge for the top seven and European qualification. Instead, they look set to be embroiled in a sustained battle against the drop.
Leeds are currently 16th in the table having taken 16 points from their first 17 matches. They are five points above the relegation zone and have the third-worst goal difference in the division, thanks in large part to their 7-0 defeat by Manchester City on Tuesday. That thrashing at the Etihad Stadium will have dented Leeds’ confidence ahead of the visit of Arsenal. Marcelo Bielsa took the blame and labelled it the worst result of his four-year tenure.
Bielsa’s attack-minded approach is non-negotiable. The Argentine has never adapted his methods throughout this long career and he is not about to start doing so now. His desire for his teams to play front-foot, progressive soccer has brought Leeds numerous highs in recent seasons, and occasional demolitions like Tuesday’s are simply the reverse side of the coin.
The worry for Leeds fans is that the team could run out of steam this season. Bielsa’s demands for permanent high energy and high intensity can take a physical and mental toll, particularly on a small squad like Leeds’. With key players like Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips currently missing through injury, it is fair to say the Whites are going through a sticky patch.
Despite that humbling loss at the Etihad, we should not expect Leeds to retreat into their shell this weekend. They will attempt to bounce back from that defeat by taking the game to Arsenal. The raucous atmosphere at Elland Road only increases the likelihood of this being a frantic, frenzied match played at 100 miles per hour.
Arsenal must respond to that. Their young team is full of talent, but it has struggled to cope in difficult circumstances this season. At times Arsenal have failed to get going away from home, turning in a meek display in which their opponents are able to take the initiative. On other occasions the Gunners have taken the lead but then decided to sit back, allowing the other side a route back into the game.
Arsenal’s inability to control matches at opposition grounds means this is likely to be an open affair. It is a fixture that could be decided on the counter-attack: with Leeds set to flood bodies forward, there will be ample space for the Gunners to break into.
Arsenal will fancy their chances of registering a third win on the bounce, but the goals market is the best place for bettors – back over 3.5 in what should be an entertaining encounter.
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|Leeds United vs Arsenal Information|
|Teams||Leeds United vs Arsenal|
|Location||Elland Road, Leeds, England|
|Time||Saturday, 18 December 2021, 12.30 PM EST|
|How to watch||NBC Sports|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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