This piece is a difficult one for me. I like to write these articles based on what I’ve seen. In the case of Premiership and most Champions League teams I can watch some of their games or at least decent quality highlights. That makes it easier to visualize how a game might pan out.
In the present case of Leeds United I know very little. And memories of the likes of Viduka, Harte, Kewell, and the woodwork tormenting Arsenal at the end of the 02-03 season aren’t particularly useful in anyway.
I thought it might be a good idea to look for some recent highlights of Championship games featuring the visitors. That search led me to this youtube channel for some recent highlights and to this compilation of goals by Leeds in 2010.
Based on that limited evidence, the visitors look like a decent side in the attacking third. Snodgrass on the right wing seems to have an intelligent head on his shoulders along with neat ball skills and a good cross. Luciano Becchio looks like a decent finisher in the box. Max Gradel, the Ivorian, has pace on the left and he can convert chances. Even their midfielders have the ability to pop up with a crucial goal or two.
Last season, while still in League One, Leeds defeated Manchester United at the same stage of the competition, at Old Trafford. Subsequently, they took the Tiny Totts to a replay. In due course, the visitors got promoted to the Championship and are now fighting at the top end to gain re-entry to the Premier League. I don’t wish to make this a eulogy for Leeds but the bottom-line is that the visitors can cause an upset if Arsenal don’t turn up at their best.
The game is even more risky because Arsene will be making a number of changes. Most fans can understand the need for rotations given the fixture congestion and the need to give certain players some well deserved game time, but finding the balance while doing this is not easy. United got walloped 4-0 in the League Cup when they made a number of changes against West Ham. Speaking before their game with Liverpool, Fergusson acknowledged that last season he got is starting line-up against Leeds wrong. We have to hope the same won’t happen to Arsenal.
Wenger has already said that he’s likely to rest Nasri, RvP, Koscielny, and Wilshere. I wholeheartedly agree with that decision. Sagna is also going to miss this game through suspension. That gives us five changes. If Cesc and Theo don’t start it will be seven and if Fabianski is rested that will make a total of eight changes, just the number that cost us two points at Wigan! Giving Gibbs a start would make it nine.
Having said that, I feel Arsenal can afford that many changes in this game because this is at home. Recent problems with wholesale changes have come on away trips in the Champions League and Premiership. A Cup tie with a lower division team at home should not fall in the same category.
I’d love to see Szczesny play the next two games. Nothing against Fabianski, as regular readers will know, but I’d like to see the young Pole in such games where he could afford a mistake or two.
In defence, Eboue and Gibbs should come in at full-back and Squillaci should partner Djourou who looks to be coming into this own. Clichy and Koscielny can do with a breather but at least one if not both have to be on the bench.
Picking the right midfield will be a tricky job. Ramsey started the last game on loan at Nottingham Forest but will he be ready to start for Arsenal in a game that is likely to demand a lot more physically and mentally? I’d prefer to see the youngster come on for the final 20-30 minutes or so based on the score-line.
I hope Arsene starts Alex Song in this game alongside Denilson. This will give Arsenal a fairly strong defensive midfield. Rosicky should add the creative threat in front of these two.
Up front, I’d not mind a repeat of the attacking line-up we saw at Wigan. Arshavin on the left, Chamakh in the centre, and Bendtner on the right should have more than enough to trouble the Leeds defence.
Preferred starting eleven,
Szczesny – Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Denilson – Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin.
I think a lot will depend on how the players approach this game. If they go out to prove a point, the likes of Arshavin and Bendnter can destroy the visitors. If they take it easy it could backfire. This game might be a bigger mental battle rather than a tactical one.
Even then, Arsene must ensure that his team selection does not leave the defence exposed, especially on the flanks. That is one of the reasons I want to see Song in this game. Playing someone like Eastmond alongside Denilson will leave the defence vulnerable.
Games involving Leeds have seen plenty of goals and we don’t want them at the wrong end in this game. The visitors will probably mirror Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation and based on their record in the Championship (2nd highest in goals scored, 3rd highest in goals conceded) this game could be full of goals.
Finally, I’m hoping Leeds come to play football and not as a bunch of cloggers. The visitors have nothing to lose and should try to bring their best game to the pitch even if the Championship remains their priority. I’d hate to see another Arsenal player picking up a serious injury at a time when things seems to be falling in place.