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Arsenal vs Leeds: Nullifying vital midfield trio key to success

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I hope you all enjoyed the unusual mini football hiatus! With FA Cup fifth round ties taking centre stage during the week, Arsenal were afforded a welcome break from what has been a hectic and condensed fixture schedule, and thus should be well prepared for this weekend’s fascinating home clash with the exciting, but entirely unpredictable, Leeds United.

Heading into Sunday’s match off the back of two successive league defeats, away to Wolves and Aston Villa respectively, the Gunners will be desperate to rediscover their impressive January form and return to winning ways as they seek to keep alive their ever-diminishing European aspirations.

However, in what will be his third meeting with Leeds in his short managerial career, Mikel Arteta is already very familiar with Marcelo Bielsa’s entertainers and will be acutely aware of the need to nullify the threat posed by their dynamic midfield trio of Mateusz Klich, Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips; especially after their performances in November’s reverse fixture.

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Although the 0-0 scoreline recorded on that autumnal evening suggests it was a close encounter, the reality was anything but and Arsenal were extremely fortunate to come away with a point from Elland Road. While it must be acknowledged that we played most of the second half with ten men (again), thanks to a moment of madness from Nicolas Pepe, in truth the home side dominated from start to finish, ending the game with 67% possession and 25 shots on goal.

Arsenal must learn from mistakes in the reverse fixture to beat Leeds on Sunday
A major factor in that dominance was the clever interplay between Klich, Raphinha and Phillips as they bamboozled the Arsenal midfield with their telepathic understanding and superb off-the-ball movement. Some lax marking from Joe Willock, coupled with Klich’s willingness to drop deep for support, tore up Arteta’s plan to contain Phillips and Leeds constantly created overloads in central areas, granting the England international the time and space he needed to dictate proceedings.

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Arsenal were far too passive in their midfield defensive duties during the November stalemate and, when in possession, gave the ball away with a pathetic regularity that the boss will be keen to put right this time out.

Although such efforts may be boosted by doubts surrounding Phillips’ availability for the weekend, the away side are still a formidable unit without him and will want to make amends for letting us off the hook in our previous meeting.

Considering how many times this team has broken our hearts already during this utterly demoralising season, Arsenal fans will be hoping that Arteta has learned valuable lessons from the reverse fixture and will provide some Valentine’s reprieve on Sunday.

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