It was a scoreline that felt harsh on Leeds, simply because their first half was a masterclass in a way only a Marcelo Bielsa side can produce. The visitors were all over Arsenal finishing the first half with 63 percent possession and 15 shots on goal.
The Gunners found their way back into the second half, but analysis sessions during training of looking over that first 45 minutes will not make for pleasant viewing. They cannot afford to start another game like this. Arsenal now face a trip to fellow Premier League side Bournemouth in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Here are the three things we learned as Arsenal beat Leeds United 1-0 in the FA Cup.
3. Game of two halves for the Gunners
Arsenal got the first half wrong, and it wouldn’t have taken Mikel Arteta long to realise that. Right from tampering with the line-up that beat Manchester United last week to having players play out of position, there were a lot of things that didn’t go Arsenal’s way.
Distances between players were far too big, their midfield lacked balance and Mesut Özil was being bypassed with regularity, but they came out the second half like a completely different team.
Small changes – like Matteo Guendouzi dropping deeper, Nicolas Pepe seeing more of the ball – transformed their lethargic play. Instead of being nullified by Leeds, Arsenal began to establish their own intensity on the visitors which is exactly what Arteta keeps stressing.
2. Leeds are ready for top-flight football
There’s no denying the fantastic work Marcelo Bielsa has done with this Leeds team. It may have all come crashing down for them last season, but they poised for a move to the Premier League this time around. The Whites played with cohesion, intensity, and technical security – and completely bossed Arsenal for 45 minutes.
There were moments during the first half that made it seem as if Leeds were the Premier League team, and Arsenal the Championship side. This was appropriately enough their first game against a Premier League side under Marcelo Bielsa, and they made a point of making a show of what this team is all about.
It did sometimes have the feel of a cult band going mainstream.
1. Magic of the Cup continues
Arteta won the FA Cup twice as an Arsenal player, including the 2014 triumph that ended a nine-year wait for silverware, and no one understands the magic of the FA Cup as much as he does.
It is highly unlikely that while at Manchester City, Arteta ever saw that team being outplayed by a side from a lower division in the manner that the Gunners were in the first half here, but the rookie head coach was able to come up with a response.
This tie was played at a frightening pace between two sides enjoying their football. It was expansive, it was physical, there was some lovely football played throughout and that’s exactly what the fans want.
The boss was rewarded with Nelson’s goal, but also with a performance of far, far more control. So much in fact that you’d have to question his first-half decisions, but then again, that is how we learn.