His tenure as Arsenal manager may be only 18 days old so far, but Mikel Arteta has already been witness to the many sides of his new side.
Having crumbled to succumb to a 2-1 defeat by Chelsea and shone in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, the Gunners tonight combined their previous performances to create the epitome of football’s favourite cliche: a game of two halves.
Completely out-played on home turf in the first period by a spirited, organised and talented Leeds, Arsenal returned in the second to remind everyone of their qualities.
Reiss Nelson duly scored the only goal of a highly entertaining game and put Arteta’s team through to play Bournemouth in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The first half was all about Leeds, who put on a 45-minute demonstration of the benefits of Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching.
The Championship-topping visitors looked every inch the Premier League side, dominating possession, pressuring Arsenal into making mistakes and peppering Emiliano Martinez’s goal with attempts.
Bielsa’s attention to detail and tactical prowess was clear, with Leeds dismantling a shaky Gunners midfield and back line time and again. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t take any of their chances – 15 of them in total.
Martinez palmed away a drive from Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford smashed the crossbar, Kalvin Phillips’ low free-kick tested Martinez and the long-serving reserve goalkeeper had to push away a back-post header from Ezgjan Alioski.
Leeds limited Arsenal to 37 per cent possession in the first period and just 71 per cent accurate passes, but Bielsa’s side won only admirers and confidence that they can compete in the top flight, if they were to be promoted in May.
As impressive as Leeds were, Arsenal were every bit as poor. Playing out of position at right-back Sokratis was harried constantly by Alioski, while on the other flank Sead Kolasinac was run ragged by the tricky Harrison.
Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka struggled with the ball and were powerless without it, unable to prevent the onrushing stream of Leeds attackers.
Arteta is keen to strengthen his squad and watching his side being outclassed by a Championship team – albeit it one top of the division and coached by one of the world’s most influential football thinkers – showed why.
We are just four games into his managerial career but thanks to Alexandre Lacazette’s post-match interview we have already gained an insight into Arteta’s style. Despite his softly-spoken voice, Arsenal’s new manager is not afraid to use the stick as well as the carrot.
Arsenal’s captain for the night said the former Manchester City assistant “shouted a lot” at the break and it certainly had the desired effect.
The Gunners shot out of the blocks, with Nelson charging forward immediately on a counter-attack and Lacazette skimming the crossbar with a free-kick.
The game’s only goal was a potential blueprint for how Arteta wants Arsenal to attack: quickly and decisively. Nicolas Pepe combined with Lacazette down the right before Nelson scuffed in a loose ball from close range.
Having been out-shot 15 to three in the first half, Arsenal turned the tables in the second, taking 13 attempts to their opponents’ three. It wasn’t just a renewed attacking purpose, but a physical, aggressive bite to their play which had been absent under Unai Emery.
Xhaka has been the lightning rod for criticism this season and was very fortunate to avoid at least a yellow card for four late challenges, but his efforts to hurry Leeds were influential in turning the tide.
“We saw two different teams from the first to second half,” Arteta said. “We changed our attitude, desire and organisation at half-time and then we were completely different.”
He is right – and the fact he can have that effect is extremely encouraging for Arsenal going forward.