Arsenal survived an inexplicable red card for Nicolas Pepe and a wave of pressure from Leeds United to earn a 0-0 draw at Elland Street on Sunday. The Gunners had been on the back foot for much of the first half against final season’s Championship winners and might have been trailing but for a series of impressive saves by Bernd Leno.
The pressure on Arsenal’s goal did not ease when Pepe used to be sent off for violent conduct early in the second one half with Patrick Bamford and Raphinha hitting the post as Leeds, who registered 25 shots on goal, were frustrated in their pursuit of what would have been a observation win.
Here are the key talking points from the game:
Moving Aubameyang doesn’t solve underlying issues
After eight games that had seen Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang register fewer shots on goal (10) than Harry Maguire, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Yves Bissouma, it seemed only natural that Mikel Arteta would bring his star striker in from the bloodless out on the left wing to be the point of interest of Arsenal’s attack.
There used to be a sense that Arteta used to be doing so reluctantly. Speaking to Sky Sports before kickoff, he insisted that Aubameyang’s “natural” position used to be wide on the left. It is maybe difficult to provide an explanation for how a manager would reach that conclusion on a player who has ranked among Europe’s finest center-forwards for half a decade but that is beside the point. Wherever he’s played, Arsenal’s talismanic striker will only be effective whether you’ll be able to get the ball to him.
By halftime Aubameyang had had just four touches in the last third, three fewer than Kieran Tierney and a tally bettered by each Leeds player excluding goalkeeper Illan Meslier and his two center-backs. Arsenal’s best striker used to be starved of service in the areas where he can influence the game. Too regularly he used to be dropping back with Joe Willock struggling to offer any creative influence or running into the channels because Willian and Nicolas Pepe were not picking him out in more central areas.
There are chasms of space around this Arsenal attack that Aubameyang feels compelled to fill because differently how can moves get built? The problem is that in doing so he ensures that whether the ball does get into danger areas he isn’t in the correct position to receive the a very powerful touch.
Leeds’ attack is best form of defense
Marcelo Bielsa’s side returned to Elland Street after two grueling 4-1 defeats against Leicester and Crystal Palace and yet the Leeds boss did not break up his backline. His two changes saw Raphinha handed a first start and Kalvin Phillips restored to the side after injury against Wolverhampton Wanderers final month.
Though Phillips added nous to the Leeds defensive effort, it must be no great surprise that Bielsa did not deviate from the energetic urgent template he has applied in such invigorating fashion all the way through his managerial career, reasonably his side took to their task with greater intensity. Arsenal were hemmed in high up the pitch and were attacked with vigor and ferocity, forcing chance after chance and continually testing Leno.
Indeed the game could have been in Leeds’ hands by the interval as they registered 12 shots on goal. None of them were simple chances to transform but sheer weight of numbers ought to have brought more.
In the long run Pepe’s red card might have made Leeds’ chances of winning reasonably harder, removing much of Arsenal’s motivation to chase a win and instead turning this into an exercise where the hosts had to find their way through a low block. That’s not when this team is at its best and it might just have been enough to offer protection to Leno’s clean sheet.
Pepe blows his prime chance
The story of Pepe’s Arsenal career has been his search for consistency. The flashes of excellence — his performance in the FA Cup Last win over Chelsea, two brilliant free kicks to defeat Vitoria Guimaraes — were just what you would want from a $95-million player. They came all too fleetingly for a player with his price tag.
Pepe has at final for the reason that consistency to Arteta, who has never seemed entirely taken by his charms. For the next three games Arsenal realize precisely what they’re going to be getting from their record signing: nothing at all. There is simply nothing to excuse his 52nd minute red card.
The robust off-ball defending Ezgjan Alioski meted out is nowhere close enough to provide an explanation for Pepe’s tame nudge of his head (it would be beneficiant to label it a headbutt) toward his opponent. Arsenal were already on the ropes, a man down they had little choice but to check out and resist the pummeling that Leeds delivered.
Nicolas Pepe makes his way to the stands after being sent off in Arsenal’s match against Leeds
And yet the harshest truth is in purely attacking terms Arsenal did not truly overlook Pepe. This used to be supposed to be the Ivorian’s big chance with Alexandre Lacazette dropped and Willian struggling for 45 minutes before being replaced by Reiss Nelson. Instead he gave absent almost 30 percent of the passes he attempted, created just one chance and spurned a promising break by curling a long range shot mannered wide.
Jack Harrison: A menace down the Leeds left, his crossing from open play continually giving Patrick Bamford something to challenge for. RATING: 8
Rob Holding: That you must see why he gave the look to be the only defender Leeds did not press, his passing used to be so wayward they could feel pretty self-assured the ball used to be coming back their way. Alternatively when Arsenal found themselves on the back foot Holding came into his own, throwing himself at each cross and offering a clearing head. RATING: 5
Liam Cooper: He might have expected to be busier with Aubameyang playing through the middle but when he used to be called upon the Scottish center-back used to be excellent, especially with his block of a late shot by the Arsenal forward. RATING: 7
Leeds commute to Everton on Saturday, the day before Arsenal take on Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League. Before then the Gunners commute to Norway to face Molde in the Europa League on Thursday.