Monday, December 11, 2023

Leeds preview: A chance to improve our away form

If this season is going to go the way we want it to go, games like today are crucial. There is a significant discrepancy between our home and away form this season. At the Emirates, we’ve taken 22 points, the same as Man City, and more than Liverpool or Chelsea. On the road, it’s just 7 points, and only two wins from eight games, so that’s something we need to get on top of today.

There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in confident mood, having played well and beaten a very tough, well organised West Ham side on Wednesday. It feels like some of our issues away from home are more on the psychological side than anything else, not quite a mental block but something along those lines. Hopefully the win this week, which came with some pressure as the opportunity to go into the top four was one we squandered previously, will help in that regard.

In terms of the team, I don’t see much in the way of change. There doesn’t need to be at this point, although with the festive schedule a little more hectic, I’m sure the manager is thinking about how to keep things fresh. The only player really banging on the door for a starting place is Emile Smith Rowe whose goalscoring cameo against West Ham was a reminder – not that it was needed – how regularly he has contributed this season.

The question is: who misses out? Gabriel Martinelli was brilliant the other night, scoring our opening goal and playing with the kind of energy that could be very useful against a team like Leeds. I thought Martin Odegaard was very bright in the first half but faded a bit in the second. However, he scored in three successive games before that, and Mikel Arteta spoke very highly of him in the pre-match press conference. There is a school of thought that Martinelli could play up front, and it’s something I’d like to see with the Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Saka triumvirate behind him, but I’m not sure it’ll happen from the start today.

I think Alexandre Lacazette will continue up front, and it’ll be interesting to see how close he can come to the performance level he got to against West Ham. He was very good, and the young players around him benefitted because of the way he played, but I do wonder about his ability to replicate that on a consistent basis. I hope he does, but if not, I wonder if Martinelli might be held in reserve as a potential replacement. Whatever Arteta decides, it’s a nice problem for the manager to have, and if these young players keep scoring and contributing, it’s exactly the kind of ‘headache’ a manager wants.

Leeds have a bit of an injury crisis, eight or nine first team players are missing, but we shouldn’t take anything for granted. Our away form is one very obvious reason, but the way Marcelo Bielsa sets up his team won’t change too much despite those absences. It is going to be hard work, and if we don’t match that, we’ll have another disappointing away day on our hands. On the other hand, if we can play the way we did against West Ham, there’s no reason why our trip back to London later this evening shouldn’t be a happy one.

With other games postponed, and the likelihood that there will be some kind of fixture pile-up as they play catch-up, getting points on the board is far preferable to games in hand, so let’s make sure we can do the business later on.

We remain an Aubameyang free zone for now, with Mikel Arteta giving no more away about the situation than he is out of today’s game. However, the captain has reportedly been in training. Whether that’s a positive thing or not remains to be seen. It’s something he is contractually obliged to turn up for, but at the same time he hasn’t been frozen out and excluded completely. Still, it remains hard to know exactly what’s going to happen and when. One game at a time territory, I guess.

Right, it’s a quick one this morning, but we will, of course, have all the live blog coverage for you later on – and for some extra listening, there’s the preview podcast over on Patreon.

For now, have a great Saturday and I’ll catch you later for the game.

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