Leeds United will attempt to respond to their humiliating 7-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City last time out when they welcome Arsenal to Elland Road on Saturday.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side fell to the club’s joint-heaviest ever league defeat on Tuesday night, while Arsenal climbed into the top four 24 hours later with victory over West Ham United.
Given how impressive they were during their first season back in the top flight last term, there were plenty of people who expected Leeds to be immune from the dreaded second-season syndrome this year, but so far they have struggled to live up to their performances from 2020-21.
Injuries to key players have played a major role in that, but they head into this weekend’s fixtures sitting 16th in the table, only five points above the relegation zone and having played two games more than 18th-placed Burnley.
Bielsa’s men are in the midst of just about the most difficult run of fixtures it is possible to get in the Premier League right now, with Saturday’s game the third in a run of four matches in a row against each of the current top four.
The first of those saw them push Chelsea all the way before losing to a contentious last-gasp penalty, but the same XI was then trounced by a rampant Man City in midweek as Bielsa saw one of his sides concede seven goals in a game for the very first time in his long and distinguished managerial career.
That result means that only the bottom two have now conceded more goals or possess a worse goal difference than Leeds this season, having shipped 12 in their current three-game winless run.
Things won’t get much easier with Arsenal and Liverpool to come either side of Christmas, but Leeds will be desperate to prove that Tuesday’s match was an anomaly and they will be confident that another performance of the level they produced against Chelsea last weekend could be enough to get something out of the game against Arsenal.
The fact that it comes at Elland Road should boost Leeds’ hopes too, with Bielsa’s men unbeaten in their last five home games stretching back to September, although only two of those have ended as wins.
Indeed, Leeds have only won one of their seven outings home or away since the beginning of November, while two of their three Premier League wins this season have come against teams currently below them in the table.
Arsenal will justifiably head into Saturday’s match as favourites, then, particularly after Wednesday’s 2-0 London derby win over West Ham United lifted them into the top four of the Premier League table for the first time since October last year.
Goals from Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe secured back-to-back wins for the Gunners, who have now scored five without reply in their last two outings following successive defeats to Manchester United and Everton before that.
That improved form on the pitch has coincided with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence due to disciplinary reasons, with Alexandre Lacazette donning the armband against West Ham after his strike partner was stripped of the captaincy.
While that saga rumbles on behind the scenes, manager Mikel Arteta’s main concern on the field ahead of Saturday is likely to be improving his side’s away form.
The Gunners have lost five of their eight Premier League away games so far this season, including each of the last three, conceding nine goals in the process.
Indeed, only four teams have shipped more goals on the road this term than Arsenal, all of whom are in the bottom six.
If the visitors can correct those away woes and couple them with the league’s joint-best home record this season then it may be hard for the chasing pack to catch them in the top-four race, and Arteta will be viewing Saturday’s match against a wounded Leeds as a great chance to do just that.
Leeds United Premier League form:
Arsenal Premier League form:
We say: Leeds United 1-1 Arsenal
The formbook points firmly to an Arsenal win in this match, but it may not be that straightforward with Leeds having only lost twice at home this season and Arsenal having only won twice on the road.
Bielsa will also be demanding a response to Tuesday’s mauling at Man City, so we are backing the hosts to get something out of this game.