Arsenal return to action after a perfect March in the Premier League. Four matches and four wins. 14 goals scored while only conceding three. That run has seen numerous Premier League nominations for the month - Mikel Arteta (Manager), Bukayo Saka & Leandro Trossard (Player), Reiss Nelson (Goal), and Aaron Ramsdale (Save). The Gunners start this final phase of the season with a visit from Leeds United.
With the bottom nine clubs so close in the table every point is a huge boost. And that’s exactly what Leeds have had since their recent manager change. The club entered the international window on the back of a 4-2 win over Wolves, which marked a second win in Gracia’s tenure after a run of ten matches without a win. The team has scored six goals in their last two matches and will be feeling like they have nothing to lose traveling to the Emirates.
For this Q&A we spoke with James Weller from the ‘Leeds, That’ podcast.
TSF: Since Javi Gracia has taken over the club has managed two wins and a draw during a four-match run. What changes has he made in starting personnel and tactics, and how have the supporters taken to him?
Leeds, That: He comes across so well in his press conferences. Really focused and sacrificing time away from his family - which is always appreciated when you see a manager go through this. It’s a complete change in style and approach. Marsch-ball was very direct, through the middle with very little time on the ball for players, or width being used. It was frustrating to watch because we’d gone from watching a Bielsa setup which was focused on lots of quality possession, width, and movement. So returning to a style that has some of those attributes that actually seem to be getting us points is a big relief.
TSF: The relegation battle is quite remarkable in the Premier League this year. 12th to 20th are only separated by four points. Leeds are in 14th place, two points above the drop zone. Looking at their schedule to close out the season, how confident are you that the club can remain in the top flight?
Leeds, That: Ha! Confident?! We’re Leeds fans. It’s precarious down here, but then everyone has difficult games who are amongst it. If we can get a couple of wins sooner rather than later we’ll definitely be feeling more confident. It looks like we have some key injuries - Gnonto and Wober, which is not what we need right now!
TSF: Leeds are home to a trio of US Men’s National Team midfielders all under 25. Do you see all three as part of Gracia’s plan for the future and what is the feeling from the fans about this central core of the American team?
Leeds, That: Aaronson, McKennie, and Adams are great people and you can see their potential as footballers. Adams is a pest and against Liverpool he showed his work rate and qualities to get us out of trouble and quickly into attack. McKennie is still the new boy in a team that has changed its style in a short period of time, but he’s had flashes of good stuff - he loves winding up players. Aaronson has great feet and works the ball well - it’s just that last pass and decision-making that frustrates some of the fans and he gets knocked off the ball too easily. But if you look at it objectively he’s so young and Leeds is a great club to come to as you get your chance. That’s been one of the big pluses that has attracted some fantastic youth talent.
TSF: Heading into the summer transfer window, if Leeds remain in the Premier League, what will be their top priorities both in additions and new contracts?
Leeds, That: Feels like we need to nail down more of the defence, and keeping Gnonto will be key - he’s a quality player and brilliant human being, the sort a squad should be built around. We might need to get a new Keeper, there’s been talk for some time of Ilan Meslier moving on. He’s the most capped Goalkeeper for his age in the Premier League, he’s got a great career ahead of him and it’d be great if it was at Leeds, but there will be ‘big clubs’ in for him unfortunately.
TSF: And finally, can you give us your predicted formation for Leeds this weekend and the starting XI?
Leeds, That: 4-4-2. Feels like the 90s right? But whilst Gracia is steadying the ship, this makes a lot of sense for us. Remain tight and attack when we get the opportunity. We might be able to spoil things for Arsenal...maybe. After all, we came close to getting something at Elland Road and definitely should have got more from the game and you can go as far back as Highbury where we ruined the title party. You just never know!
Predicted Starting 11: Meslier | Ayling, Koch, Striujk, Firpo | Harrison, Mckennie, Roca, Summerville | Aaronson & Bamford
Thanks to James Weller and the Leeds, That podcast.