Bielsa will not hide behind injuries as excuse as Leeds United handed another lesson by Arsenal
Marcelo Bielsa again refused to make excuses for his side's latest Premier League loss, but would have been fully justified to bemoan the injury crisis which is threatening to derail Leeds United's bid to avoid getting dragged into a relegation dogfight.
The Whites had 10 first team squad members - including six current internationals - missing before they faced a bang in-form Arsenal side and lost Jack Harrison in the first half so it was no surprise when they were outplayed at times.
They were lucky to get away with only conceding four goals so outgunned were they in the first half, but did get some pride back with a battling effort in the second half and even had the Gunners slightly worried when Raphinha pulled a goal back from the penalty spot.
In the end Emile Smith Rowe's 84th minute goal clinched Arsenal's 4-1 win, but Leeds players left the field to appreciation from home fans who appreciated their players' efforts in such adversity.
"It was two different halves. The second half, we could have won it, but in the first half we could have lost it by more goals," said head coach Bielsa.
“The conclusions are for myself. The losses of the ball in our own half and in the centre of the pitch increases the offensive power of the opponent.
“For us to increase the amount of danger we can create, we need to recover the ball when they play it.
“They managed to take the ball off us when we were trying to build the attack and we couldn’t. I think that’s what explains the difference.
“They prevented us from getting into their half with combination play and through their recoveries in the build up of the play, they created danger.
"In the second half we improved the recovery of the ball. We made a lot of efforts so their forwards didn't receive the ball comfortably."
While other Premiership teams had their games called off because of covid there were no thoughts of Leeds trying to get their game off even with so many unavailable and the bench having to be made up entirely of under 23 players.
Bielsa confirmed that only defender Diego Llorente was absent for illness.
He explained: "The rules don't contemplate the amount of injuries for a game to be suspended even if we had 10 players less; one was through suspension, one was through illness and the rest were through injury.
"The type of injuries that we've had, if you look over them, they are injuries in the tendons of the muscles, in the lower part of the feet, injuries in the bones of the shoulders. And apart from Bamford who got injured celebrating a goal and James who got injured in the last game, they're not injuries linked to being tired or due to an accumulation of activity.
"The team continues to run as always, no matter who plays. Of course to play, the injuries due to contusions, they are part of any moment in the competition.
"On Thursday in the last minute of a practice session that was informal, a teammate fell on top of (Charlie) Cresswell, who was going to participate today, and it provoked that an area that was complex.
"And today the player who looks after his health the most in the squad, and in a squad where all of the players are double or triple vaccinated, the one who looks after the most gets ill.
"It's constructed through these type of episodes, like a goal in minute 93 against Chelsea. A result that's difficult to imagine like the one against City and games like today where in the second half it was more probable to be 3-2 than 4-1, the 4-1 is produced. They're all problems they're usually resolved but in this case they're not.
"I can't deny I had some difficulty (picking a team). But I can't also justify the defeat due to the absences."
Bielsa praised the resilience of Stuart Dallas who played the full game despite picking up several knocks and Raphinha who carried on despite being stamped on by Granit Xhaka, who was lucky to escape a red card.
He was also pleased with young striker Joe Gelhardt, who started his first home league game and earned the penalty for United's goal.
He must also have been happy with the display of goalkeeper Illan Meslier, who made a huge amount of first half saves as Arsenal left the field at the break only three up despite having 11 efforts on target.
In a lively start Raphinha sent a header over in the first minute, but the Gunners soon showed their intentions as Meslier's first save him deny Alexandre Lacazette as the visiting striker was sent through. The rebound fell to Bukayo Saka , but with the goal gaping he put the ball wide.
Thomas Partey's angled shot was next to be saved by Meslier before Kieran Tierney's low shot from 20 yards out was well held by the home keeper.
Arsenal opened the scoring on 16 minutes when Adam Forshaw lost the ball on the edge of his own box in trying to run it out instead of clearing and Gabriel Martinelli latched onto the loose ball to curl a shot into the top corner.
Raphinha managed Leeds' only on target shot of the first half with a cheeky 50-yard attempted lob that was easily saved by Aaron Ramsdale.
And the Brazilian then had his side's best chance of the half as he got on the end of Tyler Roberts' long pass, cut in from the right and was unlucky to see his shot inches wide.
But United were still having defensive problems. largely on the transition after they were guilty of giving the ball away and Meslier saved twice from powerfully hit shots by Tierney and Partey.
Arsenal doubled their lead when Dallas' loose pass on half way was seized upon by Xhaka who sent Martinelli through to chip the ball over Meslier for his second goal.
It could have been three soon after as Lacazette was only denied by a close range save from Meslier.
But any relief was temporary when Saka cut in from the right wing with defenders holding off and his eventual shot went in via a deflection.
Martin Odegaard and Saka were unable to put away further half chances and it was the Whites that were grateful to hear the half-time whistle just three down.
Leeds did improve in the second half and it suited them that the game became a bit niggly after Xhaka somehow avoided any sanction after initially preventing a free-kick being taken then from the next phase of playing making a tackle that could best be described as ugly as he stamped on Raphinha's ankle.
Amazingly he did not even concede a free-kick and even with VAR no card of any colour was shown for a clear red card offence.
The weekly shouts of "you're not fit to referee" were soon directed at Andre Marriner when moments later he booked Gelhardt when he too caught his opponent, Takehiro Tomiyasu, in a nasty fashion, although from a much more honest attempt at winning the ball.
Roberts hit a shot well over when the football resumed and the Gunners finally mounted another dangerous attack that saw Saka play a smart one-two with Martinelli only to shoot just wide.
Another Roberts shot was straight at Ramsdale before United gave themselves some hope as Gelhardt combined with Mateusz Klich in the box and was brought down by a sprawling challenge from former Leeds defender Ben White. With Raphinha emphatically putting away the spot kick somewhat surprisingly it was game on.
Roared on by a crowd who were fantastically supportive throughout, the Whites now looked more likely to score again, but Crysencio Summerville's attempted overhead kick sent the ball over.
That was to prove the last of their chances and it was Arsenal who wrapped up their victory when substitute Smith Rowe was put through by Odegaard after Roberts sloppily lost the ball and fired past Meslier.
Leeds United 1
(Raphinha 74, pen)
(Martinelli 16, 29, Saka 42, Smith Rowe 84)
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Leeds: Meslier; Drameh, Koch, Ayling, Dallas; Forshaw; Raphinha, Klich (Greenwood 78), Roberts, Harrison (Summerville 31, McCarron 81); Gelhardt.
Arsenal: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu (Soares 64), White, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Partey; Saka (Smith Rowe 78), Odegaard (Tavares 85), Martinelli; Lacazette.
Referee: Andre Marriner