With less than five weeks to go to Christmas, my Leeds United themed Christmas tree is up. Don’t forget to buy my latest book Leeds Are Going to the Premier League, Leeds United Season 2019-20. Promoted in their Centenary Year! for the Leeds fan in your life. Apart from spending time with my family, the greatest present would be to see Leeds fans back at Elland Road on Boxing Day. A nice touch from Leeds showed Leeds ball boy Elliott Metcalfe who is suffering from cancer, being mascot for the day and leading the team out via an iPad. This may have been a contribution, but as the game kicked off, I suddenly felt really down as the tears started to flow.
The team: Meslier, Cooper, Ayling, Dallas (making his 200th appearance), Phillips (back from his shoulder injury injury), Raphinha (making his first home start), Bamford, Klich, Harrison, Koch and Alioski. Subs: Rodrigo for Ayling (70) and Poveda for Harrison who was limping (80). Subs not used: Casilla, Costa, Roberts, Davis and Struijk. Leeds drew the game 0-0 despite hitting the post and crossbar. Attendance: Zero, behind closed doors. Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Raphinha got in a good position to shoot after Leeds had to be on their toes to stop a couple of Arsenal attacks. After a lot of possession from Arsenal, it felt like it would be a tough game especially after they had a long range shot which I thought had gone in, but it went wide. After a great run by Harrison and a perfect pass into the penalty area for Alioski to pass back to Bamford, his first time shot went straight to the keeper but there wasn’t a lot of power in it. Dallas got booked when he rushed into a challenge with their player but replays from the opposite side of the pitch, showed he got the ball first. Arsenal got a corner from the resulting free kick but didn’t do anything with it. Leeds had a couple of good moves but didn’t get the rub of the green with the final shots blocked. It looked heavy going on the pitch too which wasn’t helped by recent rainfalls, but I couldn’t tell if it was still raining or not. Arsenal hit the top of the crossbar from a cross from the left of the Kop which looked as if it was going over, but the rebound was cleared away. Phillips slipped as he ran toward their player and brought him down for a free kick, but he didn’t get booked for it and luckily their shot went wide from it.
Another good move saw their player in a great position in our penalty area, but he mishit and shot wide. We started misplacing passes and putting pressure on ourselves which stood out for a while but then we overcame that. A great counterattack saw Leeds race forward and Raphinha’s shot went narrowly wide. It was good to see him not be scared to have a shot from a distance. Another move saw Leeds win a corner but sadly Bamford’s volley, having done well to get in a position to have a go, was saved by their keeper. Another chance came to Dallas which went wide after some real persistence from Harrison down the wing towards the south stand. Another great move saw Klich’s shot go over the crossbar when it should have at least been on target. Ayling was the next one to have a shot go over from a free kick on the left when Alioski was brought down, before Arsenal had another attack with their final shot wide. After a lot of Leeds attacking it looked like Arsenal had breached our defence before a counterattack saw Leeds nearly through. Sadly, Bamford slipped as the pass came to him, but the whistle blew as Leeds went into the break on equal terms.
Arsenal brought a sub on at the start of the second half. An off the ball incident saw Alioski on the floor holding his face. Alioski had got the better of their player holding him off and he obviously didn’t like it. The referee had to look at the tv screen for VAR which showed Pepe headbutt Alioski who went down. There was no doubt in my mind that he had to be shown a red card and the referee agreed and sent him for an early bath. It was a stupid thing to do after approximately five minutes of play in the second half. With 10 minutes gone Phillips pulled up holding his knee again. Arsenal made a change whilst Phillips was off the pitch as doubts about him continuing grew in my mind, but he did come back on. Our final crosses into the box were not getting to our players as Arsenal defended well. Arsenal counterattacked with only Meslier to beat. Meslier came off his line and stood up to be counted and saved the shot putting the ball out for a corner.
I felt that maybe we should start to change things as we were getting caught out in defence by pushing up to the halfway line. As nobody was playing badly, I didn’t think Bielsa would change things as yet. I wanted us to pressure them and we needed that final ball to get to our players in the penalty area. From another Leeds attack, a great shot from Dallas was saved by their keeper. The resulting corner saw Arsenal defend well but by lumping balls in there, we needed to find a way of getting better crosses into the penalty area. As I shouted foul throw by the Arsenal player, it was good to see the referee agreed with me as he gave the throw to Leeds. I found I was watching Phillips like a hawk to check he wasn’t limping as a couple of times I wasn’t too sure whether he was or not. Luckily my fears looked to be ungrounded as he carried on playing. When it was said on the TV that their player was sent off for retaliation, I couldn’t believe my ears. Alioski stood his ground as there was some pushing and shoving from both players and Pepe obviously couldn’t take being stood up too.
As another attack saw Arsenal clearing the ball every time we got through, I was shouting for us to keep the ball on the floor as they were defending in numbers making it hard for us to get through. A bad pass from Raphinha saw Arsenal counterattack us again and as Meslier went for the ball, Cooper took it from in front of him and made sure we cleared it. Another chance for Leeds saw a great pass back to Ayling who was unable to get the last touch of the ball. As it was, that became Ayling’s last part of the game as he was then substituted. Dallas went to right back and Rodrigo took over the number 10 spot. After so much Leeds possession, a rare Arsenal attack saw Cooper push their player in the back to give a free kick away in a bad position. The resulting free kick went over the crossbar to my relief.
With 15 minutes of play left my cry was to keep fighting and never give up. Rodrigo hit a great shot from outside the area which was inches wide. Their player got the better of Phillips on the wing as they won a corner which meant I was starting to get nervous although I had not been too bad until then. As Poveda was waiting to come onto the pitch as substitute, Rodrigo hit a great shot which came back off the crossbar. As Poveda replaced him, Harrison was seen to be limping as he went off. Suddenly Arsenal were through as Koch was beaten by a fantastic cross, but Cooper blocked the ball in the penalty area. As he fell the ball hit his elbow, but I was glad that the hand ball rules have been changed as it meant we played on. Arsenal were still defending in numbers, but Leeds then had a shot from Poveda saved by their keeper. It was starting to become a very frustrating game with the feeling that we weren’t going to break through their defence.
We had Meslier to thank after Arsenal were through again. We have got to be careful with the pushing up and getting caught out on the counterattack. Cooper was booked for bringing their player down on the right. Poveda persisted in battling for the ball but was unlucky as final ball to our player was short. The woodwork again saw Bamford very unlucky as his header hit the post after an excellent cross from Poveda. We need more of those crosses to put the opposition under pressure in my opinion. Klich then shot over after Poveda’s shot was cleared as far as him. I thought Arsenal were time wasting in the final minutes after their player was fouled as their trainer came onto the pitch. On his way off the pitch their player was limping with the opposite foot that Alioski had stood on accidentally when he won a tackle. Phillips was booked for a foul too. Raphinha hit the post with a minute left and I was positive that we would have sucked that ball into the net from the Kop today had we been in attendance. The stats showed Leeds had 24 attempts on goal, wow but sadly none of them ended up with a goal recorded. Leeds won a corner in the final minute of the game and as we went to take a short corner the whistle blew for full time.
With a no score draw in the end, we got a point which was probably a good result for us after recent results went against us. After the whistle had blown, suddenly, their number 3, Tierney started being an arse and having a go at Alioski. As he did this more than once it’s a shame the referee didn’t send him off as really there was no need for it. After another international break has just ended with the potential for injuries to our players, I am glad we have a break from them too. We have a couple of tough away fixtures next with first Everton and then Chelsea. I feel we are playing well although not getting the goals we deserve but need to tighten up our defence, so we are not as exposed by a counterattack. Keep fighting Leeds! LUFC – Marching on Together!