It’s been over half a year since Arsenal last faced Leeds United and it’s been a rollercoaster of a season for both sides. The Gunners have seen their momentum, and place in the league table, rise, and fall so many times you would be forgiven for thinking it was scripted. Not that Amazon’s All or Nothing will mind. Meanwhile, Leeds parted way with fan favorite and the man who brought them back into the Premier League, Marcelo Bielsa.
After suffering a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa, Leeds United went five matches unbeaten in the league picking up 11 points and looking clear of the relegation battle. But recent wins by their nearest rivals and a big defeat to Manchester City last weekend has Leeds just two points clear of Everton and having played one more match.
So we’ve caught back up with Ciaran O’Hare from SB Nation site Through It All Together to find out if he thinks they will survive this season, about the departure of Bielsa, the arrival of Marsch, and his prediction for the weekend.
TSF: We’ve got to start with Bielsa. How surprised were you by the move and did you think they were going to let him see out this season?
TIAT: Yes and no. Frankly, the final games of his tenure were disastrous, but sacking Bielsa was more than a managerial change. Bielsa represents much of what Leeds United fans want the club to be, and sacking him was viewed by some as a betrayal of that philosophy. Others, though upset, will have backed it and understandably so. The future of the club comes first, and nothing was being done that was drastic enough to turn results around.
TSF: Before the rumors began, how much did you know about Jesse Marsch? Here in the US, we of course are quite familiar with him from his playing days in MLS and from coaching the New York Red Bulls.
TIAT: Most fans went in with an open mind. He obviously speaks very well, although since his appointment he has also seen a spot of bother regarding other Bielsa comments. His time at Salzburg was really impressive, while his Leipzig spell was less so. As for his time at NYRB, very few Leeds fans will have taken much notice nor would they have been as interested in his time there as they might’ve been for his next two roles. As long as he works hard, represents the club in the right manner and, most importantly, is successful, then his Amercian-ness is no bother.
TSF: If Leeds were to get relegated, and we will come on to that in a moment, do you get the sense that the club will stick with Marsch, let him resupply the squad, and aim to win the Championship?
TIAT: I think they’d stick with Marsch if he would be willing to stay. As much as Marsch has said he’s aware of that possibility, I’m not sure if he’s actually said outright “I’ll stay if we go down.” And why would he? I wouldn’t know one way or the other, and I think the board might have gotten a nod of approval from the 49ers on this one given that they are due to takeover. As a side note, I’d imagine the current owners (Radrizzani/Aser) will depart in the summer if Leeds go down.
TSF: The final relegation spot is down to Burnley, Leeds, or Everton. Looking at the remaining fixtures how confident are you that the club can beat out at least one of those other two?
TIAT: Not particularly. I hate to say it, but this run of games is brutal, and with the injuries sustained against City, we’ve got a really tough task. But many of us still believe in the team and that something might happen for us, even though it looks bleak on paper. That’s what football is all about I suppose.
TSF: It was often noted how Bielsa wanted his players to fit into a certain style and was reluctant to sign a lot of depth. However, looking at the team now, regardless of what league Leeds are in next season, they need to add a number of players. What positions are most in need of support?
TIAT: Depends on what league we’re in ultimately, as in the Championship we’d see a lot of the kids step up, and that then shifts where to the gaps are, while some of those will only show in the years after next season.
For now, we need to refresh a lot of the squad, figure out who Bielsa’s coaching carried and now cannot cut it for the Premier League and move them on. More goal scoring options for sure, and midfielders. I’d say a ‘number 8’ type of player.
TSF: If Leeds remains in the Premier League do you believe they will be able to hold on to Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha?
TIAT: They’d have to throw big money at them and pitch them a long-term plan for the club to never be in this position again. Reports are back and forth on whether KP will stay at Leeds out of loyalty, but if we’re in the Championship then he goes.
As for Raph, I think he might leave regardless, unless we were to make some insane signings and throw him a huge contract.
TSF: Who is a younger player at the club, someone rarely used by Bielsa, or out on loan that you think could make an impact on the first team next season, regardless of who the manager is at that point?
TIAT: Cody Drameh. Half a season at Cardiff and he’s won their Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards. The lad is an excellent player.
More people have heard the name Joe Gelhardt over the course of the season too, and I really hope Crysencio Summerville gets a real go because the kid’s got serious talent.
Charlie Cresswell is my pick of the bunch though. Old school centre-half who can play too. He’s a leader, and very mature for his age. A ‘future captain’ type.
TSF: As Jesse Marsch deals with injuries and a thin squad, what formation should Arsenal expect them to use in this match, and who is in your predicted starting XI?
TIAT: He’s favouring a 4-2-3-1 at the moment and I don’t see why he’d change there. The personnel will make the difference. Dan James isn’t a striker, let’s get young Gelhardt on the pitch and let him do his thing.
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
TIAT: I really hate doing predictions, and I really rate Arsenal, but I’m gonna say 1-1 regardless. Come on Leeds!