It was the rare week off for Arsenal. They, and we, probably needed it. After a really great run of matches, things started to fall apart for the last game and a half. The Gunners are still mired down in 11th place, but with 15 games left in the Premier League season, there is plenty of time to close the gap once again.
The next stretch may prove difficult - Leeds, Man City, Europa League knockouts, & Leicester are all coming up before the North London Derby. However, the final eight matches of the campaign include Sheffield United, Fulham, Newcastle, West Brom, Crystal Palace & Brighton. All six are below Arsenal in the table at the moment so if you are looking for a silver lining that might be it. But first, Mikel Arteta has to ready the side for the press and energy of Leeds United without two key pieces.
The club revealed on Thursday that while Bernd Leno and David Luiz are available once again after their red cards, Arsenal will be without both Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney this weekend. While it’s nice to see the injury list down to just two players, especially consider the congested season and compared to other Premier League sides, it’s all that more difficult to progress up the table with those two missing.
- Eddie Nketiah
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Mohamed Elneny
- David Luiz
- Mat Ryan
- Left Out: Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson & Alex Runarsson
- Out: Thomas Partey (hamstring) & Kieran Tierney (leg)
- Returning from his red card, Bernd Leno is back in the starting lineup with Mat Ryan on the bench. Besides being the backup, will Arteta try Ryan in either leg of the upcoming Europa League matches or will it be Leno for the rest of the season, considering how important winning the Europa League is at this point?
- Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin should be locks on the right side of the backline. With Tierney out, Cedric is probably the option Arteta will pick once again for left-back. Saka could function there in the right formation, but Cedric is still probably the better option defensively and it would be unfortunate to take Bukayo out of the attack knowing there will be chances to break against Leeds. His additions at left-back do not outweigh his strengths in the attack. David Luiz is available again and Gabriel had a decent match against Aston Villa, but with Pablo Mari fully fit he should resume his partnership with Holding.
- With Partey out, it’s down to Ceballos vs. Elneny to man the midfield with Xhaka. We know what Leeds United will bring, so do you go with the more defensive/conservative option in Elneny or the more technical/attacking option in Ceballos? I’d like to think looking for three points, Arteta opts for Dani who along with Xhaka could find Saka or Aubameyang (or Pepe and Martinelli in the 2nd half) on the break against the Leeds press.
- Despite leading in possession, shots, and corners the Arsenal attack faltered against Villa. Lacazette needs to start once again as he is the only player who really does what he does for this system and will be crucial in providing respite against Leeds press. After putting together a series of solid matches, Pepe took a step back last weekend, opening the door for Aubameyang to start on the left Sunday. If Arsenal can counter quickly and bypass the press, the attacking line could really cause problems for Leeds’ backline.
- There are plenty of attacking options on the bench, especially with Pepe and Martinelli able to come on late to keep up the pressure on a hopefully tiring Leeds defense and/or draw yellow cards and free kicks in dangerous positions. Alternatively, I could see Chambers included on the bench to help provide coverage and options for the fullback position. If so, Nketiah might be the one to make way.
How to watch
Sunday (2/14) at 11:30 am ET / 8:30 am PT on NBCSN.
Arsenal - 2
Leeds United - 1