Two wins, five goals, and zero conceded. The perfect response to back-to-back losses and media frenzy around Aubameyang’s absence. Now having climbed up into fourth place, can the Gunners use this momentum to see out December with a trio of additional league wins and a spot in the League Cup semi-finals?
Unfortunately, Arsenal are not at the Emirates this weekend, where they are currently tied atop the form table with 19 points from their last eight matches at home. Leeds have picked up 10 points at Elland Road from eight games and will be feeling the pressure from their home crowd after that 7-0 defeat by Manchester City. The Gunners will be hoping to shed their dreadful away form having just reached the top four, as it has been just seven points from eight matches on the road this season.
We caught up with Ciaran O’Hare from SB Nation site Through It All Together once again to dive a bit deeper into Leeds United and see if we could expand upon the Q&A earlier this season ahead of the Carabao Cup clash.
TSF: For readers still getting to know Leeds United, can you give us the top three rival clubs, based on general fan consensus?
TIAT: Difficult to say since everyone’s different depending on when you grew up. For example, I’ve never lived the Leeds v Manchester United rivalry until last season, since my experience of a big derby day would be Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday. I’ll go with 1. Manchester United 2. Chelsea 3. Huddersfield/Liverpool. The first two are quite obvious historic rivalries, Liverpool I’ve always felt was a ‘competitive spirit’ type of rivalry rather than bad blood. Huddersfield I’ve thrown in there as a Yorkshire derby, though Sheff Wed are up there. In fairness, I’m Scottish so what would I know?!
TSF: Let’s talk ownership. What is the current state and how do the fans feel towards the current owners? Then what is the likelihood that the full takeover from the San Francisco 49ers occurs, and if so, when?
TIAT: The 49ers takeover is almost guaranteed so long as there are no disasters for LUFC, Radrizzani (the current owner), and The 49ers between now and 2024, which is when the takeover deadline is. Could be earlier, but it is all contingent on survival. The current Leeds hierarchy said that the plan was for this season to be a consolidation job like last season, before really going for it in summer 2022 so long as we are still in the PL, but we’re really unsure exactly how the 49ers see it - probably quite similarly.
Radrizzani, Orta (Director of Football), and Kinnear (Managing Director) aren’t perfect, but they achieved that dream with incredible passion and clearly have a lot of talent about them. I particularly appreciate how ‘ride or die’ they are in their own ways, and that’s not always the best either, but it is very Leeds. Paraag Marathe has been the face of The 49ers for Leeds fans, and he’s clearly passionate and knows how to run a sports team in a business sense, and makes an effort to understand the fans and eco-system of the sport. But the fans haven’t seen enough of him and his colleagues to truly know how this will go. Only time will tell...
TSF: The last time we spoke was before Arsenal knocked Leeds out of the League Cup. Now you’ve been drawn away to West Ham in the FA Cup. Given the situation in the Premier League at the moment, does the FA Cup have more or less importance this season?
TIAT: The Cup is definitely of less importance, which is a shame since I think a lot of Leeds fans were hoping for a stronger position in the league by now so we could really have a go at a cup run. Ultimately, our position in the Premier League has even more riding on it, so give some of the kids a go in the Cup, and let’s focus on the league. We’ve got so many injuries too that it’s really not ideal to have extra matches.
TSF: Leeds schedule during this stretch reads Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool. That’s brutal enough, but in December, that seems unfair. Who at Leeds angered the Premier League schedulers?
TIAT: I think just being Leeds is enough! It’s a tough run, but we also had a run just before this in which we could’ve and should’ve picked up an extra few points, and that surprisingly includes our game against Chelsea last weekend. Injuries are such a huge issue for us at the moment, but we just have to keep pushing. We showed against Chelsea that we’re capable (we’ll see against Man City), it’s just a question of getting things right on the day and keeping our already thin squad healthy.
TSF: Keeping Leeds away from the relegation zone thus far has been Raphinha. He has already surpassed his goal total from last year, now with 7. If the club avoids relegation, do you believe he will stick around after this season?
TIAT: This is an inevitable question that will be asked all through January and will last as long as he stays. He speaks highly of the club and says he’s very happy. Loves the fans, team, and coaches, but will require a lot more help going forward if he is to stay at the club long-term.
TSF: A significant number of injuries have impacted Leeds this season. Who is a new name, to non-Leeds followers, that has stepped up to help will that void?
TIAT: One name: Adam Forshaw. How on earth can a man be injured for two years, suffer so many setbacks, then come in straight away and run a midfield, covering the most distance in every game he’s played. Forshaw’s done that, and the Leeds fans couldn’t be more proud. Now with Phillips out, he’ll have to drop deeper and pull the strings, but he’s perfectly capable and has been like a new signing since his return. I pray to God he stays fit, such a leader too.
Joe Gelhardt’s name will have been ringing around a bit, such an exciting young striker who grabbed his first goal against Chelsea. Hopefully he gets a chance. Plus, Tyler Roberts has shown his true ability and potential since picking up starts up top, as a lot of Leeds fans were losing faith until scoring against Brentford and assisting against Chelsea. Hopefully he can build on his performances.
TSF: Given the state of the table, Leeds’ injury woes, and the potential takeover, can you give us an update on how the January transfer market window may go for the club?
TIAT: Bielsa and Orta rarely attack the January market, and I don’t think there’ll be a lot of money available. They may feel it’s necessary to bring in one or two, but they won’t force if they can’t get the deal they want. We could do with a Conor Gallagher type, given that we tried to sign him in the summer. Ultimately, I think the kids will end up filling the gaps if needed, which will be a big audition for them in terms of the 21/22 season.
TSF: The U23 side is just a point off the bottom of the Premier League 2 table. But it’s all about development at that level. Are there potential Premier League-level players you’ve seen from that squad this year?
TIAT: We’ve already touched on Joe Gelhardt - exceptional on the ball, good movement, quick, strong, aggressive, and can play as a striker or midfielder which is great. Lewis Bate was signed from Chelsea in the summer, dubbed the English Billy Gilmour, which, as a Scotsman, would be amazing. He’s small, rapid, with excellent awareness and can use his body really well. I really hope he gets his chance this season, but Bielsa doesn’t seem to think he’s ready.
Charlie Cresswell is the 23s captain, and he’s already shown capability at the Premier League level. Mature for his age, absolutely massive, and seems to win every header, plus he’s great on the ball. The all-round modern centre-half, the complete package I reckon. There’s a few more but these are the main lads.
TSF: Besides survival, what are your updated goals for this season in regards to competitions, players, ownership, etc.?
TIAT: Not much other than safety. Get some of the more talented kids on the pitch when the time is right, try to push up the table, I think top-half would be a challenge but safety is the key. Simple as that.
TSF: And finally, give us your thoughts and prediction for the upcoming match between Leeds United and Arsenal?
TIAT: Arsenal have been much improved lately. Smith-Rowe and Saka are very promising, and I like Martinelli. I don’t know if you’ve truly turned a corner or if it’s just a good spell, but either way I don’t particularly want to play Arsenal at the moment. I reckon we could earn a draw though, so I’ll go 1-1, though it’s important to note that I’m horrendous at predictions.