In The Dentist’s Chair: Arsenal vs Leeds United, a first-half review

Playing against Leeds is like going to the dentist’

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal Head Coach

Monday the 6th of January 2020: the day Bielsa’s Leeds went mainstream.

“‘We’re Leeds United, we’re taking the p*ss,’ sing visiting fans. And they are. Leeds currently giving Arsenal a lesson in passing, pressing and work ethic,” tweeted the chief writer of the Times Sport, Henry Winter.

Gary Linker also tweeted: “If you didn’t know which the Premier League team was, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Leeds”.

Forty-five minutes, that was all it took for Bielsaball to take over the nation.

Just Another Day at the Office

The way Leeds played in the first half was a revelation to many. But to Leeds fans it was just another day at the office.

Leeds went to the Emirates and took the game to them. Arteta’s men just couldn’t match their high-intensity pressing.

Passes Allowed Per Defensive Action, (PPDA), is a metric that can quantify the extent and aggression of high presses employed by teams. The smaller the number the better: the fewer passes allowed by the opposition before some attempt was made to close down the ball.

In the first half at the Emirates, Leeds had a PPDA of 5.86 compared with Arsenal’s 23.33 PPDA. They were quadrupling the aggression and intensity of press shown by their Premier League counterparts.

The graphic above shows where Arsenal lost the ball during the first half. The white shapes with red outlines show where a loss led to a Leeds shot. This happened seven times.

The Bielsa press was causing the opposition all sorts of problems and created seven of our fourteen shots in the first half. Arsenal had an average of three passes per possession in the first forty-five minutes which just shows how dominant Leeds were in hunting the ball down and winning it back whenever we lost it.

With Mateusz Klich ferociously hunting Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi, not giving them a second to think, he made eight ball recoveries, eight challenges and two interceptions in the opposing half whilst also denying this double pivot any time on the ball.

This meant Arsenal had to bypass the two defensive midfielders and go long to Lacazette, where White and Phillips were lying in wait ready to pounce on any heavy touch or loose ball. As a result, Lacazette lost the ball ten times in the first half alone, a team-high at that point.

From here, Leeds could recycle the ball and begin another attack.

The pressing from Klich and the other attacking players was crucial in our ability to pin them into their own half and keep the attacking pressure on.

Constant Threat

Leeds United’s work off the ball meant they could be effective and dominate on the ball as well.

Their two shots resulting in the best Expected Goals value (xG) both came from counter-attacks.

Both chances came from scenarios in which Leeds had won the ball back and immediately attacked Arsenal’s defense while they were still out of shape.

Across the first 45 minutes, Leeds dominated the ball with 62.77% possession and managed to retain the ball brilliantly. They made 282 passes to Arsenal’s 148 in the first half: nearly double as many passes.

As a result, Bielsa’s side were by far the most threatening team in the opening forty-five minutes, notching fourteen shots to Arsenal’s three.

In the first half, Leeds also managed to get into the opposition box regularly, having sixteen touches inside their box and fifteen entries into the penalty area through runs or crosses. When compared to Arsenal’s three touches in their penalty area and no entries through runs or crosses, this was a real demolition job.

On top of this, Leeds also had a much higher xG than their Premier League opponents: 0.84 at the break compared to Arsenal’s 0.2. Leeds can feel quite unlucky that they weren’t in front at the break.

Woes in Front of Goal

From kick-off to the half time whistle, Bernd Leno’s goal was under fire. Patrick Bamford, Gjanni Alioski and Jack Harrison had the best chances of the half and better quality in-front of goal could well have seen Leeds net the opener.

Leeds forced Leno into making a save on four occasions, as seen in the graphic below.

Bamford also rattled the crossbar in the fifteenth minute after the best move of the game (shot 6 above).

It was trademark Bielsaball with many intricate little passes outside the penalty area at speed before the killer pass was sent into Bamford’s feet who then unleashed a powerful effort onto the crossbar.


Although the first half wasn’t replicated in the second, Leeds showed everyone what they are capable of. That was the Premier League’s first taste of Bielsa’s Leeds United. Dare I say it, it wont be the last.

This piece was written by Ben Hall who can be found on Twitter @young_peacock.

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Credit to for all data and images. Credit to for the featured image.



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All Stats Aren’t We

A Leeds United blog which focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game