Thursday, February 29, 2024

Leeds preview: Gabriel Jesus to start up front?

Ok folks, here we go. Ten games to go, and the first one takes place today as we face Leeds at home.

After two weeks off because of the Interlull, the key thing is trying to ensure we don’t lose momentum. It was six wins in a row before the break, so you could argue it came at a bad time for us. Still, it doesn’t look as if we’ve suffered any injuries, everyone that went away appears to be available, and some key players have had a couple of weeks to rest and recuperate for this final push we have in front of us.

The main team news is William Saliba’s absence. Mikel Arteta sounded positive enough about his chances of recovering sooner rather than later, but wasn’t necessarily definitive, saying:

Back injuries are a bit tricky with how they evolve and the load that you put in certain areas, but he’s very positive about it. The medical staff are positive about it. Let’s push it every day a little bit and see how he can cope with that, and how the pain develops as well. He’s obviously so willing to be back with the team.

With Takehiro Tomiyasu also out, it means Rob Holding will keep his place having started his first Premier League game of the season against Crystal Palace. I wrote a bit about it yesterday, so there’s no need to repeat it again. I’ve seen all kinds of back fours proposed on Twitter over the last couple of days, but while Holding’s game is different from Saliba’s and will require us to adapt, his selection makes far more sense than a complete rejig of the backline.

Arteta says:

We try to adapt the qualities of the players to get the best out of the team. Sometimes it’s the character or the quality of the player, so in every phase we try to get them in their most comfortable position so they can deliver the best for the team.

Beyond that, I assume midfield will be the same as it usually is, and there’s no question who the wide men will be. Leeds full-backs will be touching cloth over the idea of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka coming at them, and that’s an area I think we’ll be looking to exploit today.

The big question for me is who starts up front? I think Leandro Trossard has been excellent since his arrival from Brighton, and you could make a very good case for him to continue. He hasn’t done anything to lose his place. However, a home game like this feels like the perfect moment to give Gabriel Jesus a Premier League start. He needs minutes to get fully match fit, and the manager sounded a positive note about him in his press conference:

In the last 10 days he’s made a big step forward  … you can see in training that he is already creating that chaos and unique moments that he is capable of, so he is in a good place now.

With Liverpool away next weekend, it’s a chance to get those minutes into him which might help him take another little step forward. Again, it’s not so much dropping Trossard as making a decision to help re-establish our main centre-forward. If it’s the Belgian, I’ll be fine with that too, as I said he’s been really good, but I just feel like today might be a day we see our number 9 up top from the start.

As for today’s opposition, they might be missing a few players, but they have a chaotic energy to their play that can be difficult to deal with. We experienced it in the away game earlier in the season, one of those tight ones we just came out on top in, so I expect much the same today. I’ve mentioned this before, but basically every team we’re facing in this run-in has something to play for – either at the top or the bottom of the table. Leeds are very much in the relegation scrap, so expect that to inform their performance today.

Fingers crossed it’s a comfortable enough day, like we had last time out against Palace, but this part of the season brings with it a unique pressure. The fact that whatever happens between Man City and Liverpool will have a bearing on our mindset before kick-off is another thing we have to deal with. Let’s hope we can pick up where we left off.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. There’s a preview podcast on Patreon to help you pass some of the time, and we’ll have live blog coverage and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News as usual.

Come on Arsenal!

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