Leeds United suffer another capital failure despite Javi Gracia's tactical plan at Arsenal

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Javi Gracia's plan devised specially for Leeds United's trip to Arsenal did not ultimately work, but he was happy with aspects of it.

The Whites were the better team in the first half, but as so often this season it counted for nothing as they went in a goal down at half-time to a typically soft penalty awarded against them in London.

It was then no surprise that the title contending Gunners upped their game after the break and ran out 4-1 winners to leave United back in danger of dropping back into the bottom three after the weekend's games have been played.

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The final score was harsh on Leeds as their plan to pack the middle of the pitch and try to break at pace seemed to catch their opponents by surprise and led to the creation of more chances than their hosts initially.

Rasmus Kristensen scored Leeds United's only goal in their defeat at Arsenal.Rasmus Kristensen scored Leeds United's only goal in their defeat at Arsenal.
Rasmus Kristensen scored Leeds United's only goal in their defeat at Arsenal.

“I think we started well in the first half and created some good chances," said head coach Gracia.

"It's true they scored one goal from a penalty but we were in the game, competing well.

"I think it can be a penalty because there is a contact, but I don't know if it's enough.

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"As you can see we tried to be compact, tried to protect the middle, tried to defend in a mid, sometimes low block because playing against Arsenal sometimes you cannot decide where you want to defend.

"Knowing we need to run a big distance, we needed players with those qualities to do it. I decided to play with these players, knowing we have to play another game in three days.”

Gracia wanted the team to continue doing what they were doing into the second half even though they were a goal down, but the plan went awry within two minutes with their former player, Ben White, doubling the home team's advantage.

He added: "I know the message I gave them but in the first minute we conceded the second goal, then I don't know if they took the message.

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"It was something like keep doing something similar because we were losing but we were competing well. We needed to do it during all the game not only during the first 45 minutes.

"The game changed in the second half conceding that early goal and after that we keep going, knowing it was difficult and we scored a goal but the game in that moment was very tough.

"I'm happy with the attitude of my players, we knew it would be a very demanding game for us.

"We are playing in three games (this week), we don't have time to complain, the best thing we can do is to prepare as best as possible for the next game.”

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The defeat and other results over the weekend have made this week's home matches with Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace all the more important and it is likely Gracia will have a different plan for these matches with strikers Rodrigo and Patrick Bamford used more after they were substitutes at the Emirates Stadium.

Despite their absence Leeds made a good start and could have been ahead inthe first 10 seconds as Rasmus Kristensen – surprisingly chosen in a midfield role – saw a shot well saved by home keeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Arsenal's first chance came as Gabriel Jesus was allowed a free header in the box, but sent the ball over from Granit Xhaka's pinpoint cross.

The hosts had to wait more than 20 minutes for their next worthwhile effort with the Whites looking increasingly comfortable and creating a good opportunity when some lovely football saw Crysencio Summerville combine with Marc Roca to get free in the home box only for his low shot to be saved by Ramsdale.

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Summerville was quickly in the action again as he set up Harrison following another good move, but again the shot was dealt with by Ramsdale.

It was against the run of play when Arsenal made their big breakthrough as Jesus went down under a challenge from a grounded Luke Ayling and although there was minimal contact it was enough to persuade referee Darren England to give a penalty.

Jesus picked himself up to score from the spot and from then on the writing was on the wall for United.

It could have been two soon after as keeper Illan Meslier raced out of his area to do well to stop a home attack only to send the ball straight to Gabriel Martinelli who quickly attempted a long range shot. His effort was on target, but Ayling got back to spare his keeper's blushes.

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The second half was less than two minutes old when awful defending allowed White to sneak in at the far post to meet Martinelli's low cross to make it 2-0.

Within eight minutes it was 3-0 as clever play by Leandro Trossard set up Jesus to score again from close range.

Only a good save by Meslier prevented a fourth Arsenal goal as Gabriel got free from a corner.

But Leeds did keep going and Kristensen played Brenden Aaronson through only for Ramsdale to make yet another save from close range.

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The visitors did finally get a goal their efforts deserved when Harrison's run and pass set up Kristensen and his shot finally had Ramsdale beaten, thanks to a wicked deflection off defender Oleksandr Zinchenko.

However, it was Arsenal who had the last word with Xhaka making a simple run into the box unmarked to head home Odegaard's cross.

Arsenal 4

(Jesus 35, pen, 55 White 47, Xhaka 84)

(Kristensen 76)

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Premier League

Arsenal: Ramsdale; White, Gabriel, Holding, Zinchenko (Tierney 85); Xhaka, Partey (Jorginho 59); Trossard, Odegaard (Smith-Rowe 85), Martinelli, Jesus (Saka 59).

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch (Cooper 74), Struijk, Firpo; Kristensen, Roca; Sinisterra (Rodrigo 66), Harrison (Bamford 85), Summerville (Rutter 74); Aaronson (McKennie 66).

Referee: Darren England