Leeds comprehensively beaten by Arsenal as pressure continues to pile on Marcelo Bielsa; Gabriel Martinelli scores twice as Gunners secure place in top four for Christmas; Chelsea left six points behind leaders Man City as Premier League rejects Wolves postponement request
Tuesday 21 December 2021 11:48, UK
In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson assesses Marcelo Bielsa's refusal to deviate from his footballing principles, how Gabriel Martinelli's return to form is akin to a big-money signing, and why Covid and injuries may just have ended Chelsea's title challenge...
"Marcelo Bielsa's insistence at playing the same way is reminding me a lot of Arsene Wenger's latter years at Arsenal.
"I remember covering Manchester United versus Arsenal in 2011. Arsenal turned up at Old Trafford with a weakened team, we all said in the Super Sunday studio that Wenger needed to change things and that he couldn't go out and play as if all his big players were on the pitch.
"What did Wenger do? He went out, played the same, and Arsenal got beaten 8-2, I'll never forget it. This is exactly what I am seeing of Bielsa at Leeds United now.
"They went to Manchester City with no players, they played exactly the same way as they usually do, and it was embarrassing, I felt for the players. The manager has got to have another game plan to fall back on when needs must.
"Leeds have been absolutely shredded in the absence of some key players, but the manager has to change things around. He has got to accept that, without those players around, the team has to stay solid, get men behind the ball, and make it hard for the opposition to score.
"I mean, Arsenal were missing sitters at Elland Road and there was barely five minutes on the clock. That tells you all you need to know."
Merson added: "I don't see Leeds going down, no chance, they have key personnel returning from injury fairly soon, it'll be down to them to turn this around.
"My biggest concern with Leeds is that I love watching them play but that's no good. I'm a neutral, I love watching them, you just know you're going to get an action-packed football match. But that is not good, especially when you are not winning football matches."
Arsenal cruised to a 4-1 victory at Elland Road thanks to a brilliant first-half double from Gabriel Martinelli, who is stamping his authority in Mikel Arteta's resurgent Gunners side after drawing a line under lengthy injury trouble.
If he can stay fit, Merson believes Arsenal have the tools to mount a top-four challenge, the question now is whether they can find the consistency required to come out on top…
"Martinelli is a very special talent. I like him, but the question is: how long is he going to be fit for? If he can maintain his fitness, Arsenal have got a new signing - a £50m player.
"On top of that there's Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard is starting to look like the decent player he was meant to be when he arrived at Arsenal, Thomas Partey is starting to play now.
"Arsenal are starting to look decent but, as I say, they are still a bag of Revels, you put your hand in and you're never sure what you're going to get!
"They got beat at Old Trafford and Goodison Park, Manchester United and Everton didn't play well those two games, they weren't, they just beat Arsenal. The problem with Arsenal is consistency, that has been their problem for the last 10 years.
"They will put in some good performances, we've just seen that against Southampton, West Ham and Leeds, and they have a chance of finishing in the top four because they are not in Europe and play just once a week.
"Arsenal do deserve credit for being in the mix, as long as they carry on beating the teams beneath them they have a chance. If they lose against any of the big three it won't make a difference because none of the other teams vying for fourth will beat the big three."
Last-minute Covid cancellation forced six of the weekend's 10 Premier League games to be postponed but not at Molineux, where Chelsea suffered a significant dent to their title aspirations.
The Blues ground out a goalless draw against Wolves which saw them slip six points behind leaders and defending Premier League champions Manchester City.
With Chelsea having drawn four matches and lost once in the same period during which City have embarked on an eight-game winning streak, Merson believes there may already be too much ground to make up in the title race for Thomas Tuchel's side...
"Manchester United's games at Brentford and against Brighton were called off, but no one knows why or who was unwell. Chelsea were without Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, their three main attackers, and had to start Christian Pulisic up front against Wolves, but they had to play.
"How did Manchester United get their game called easily against Brentford, whereas Chelsea asked for the same at Molineux, but the game went ahead?
"This needs to be sorted, Premier League clubs need clarity and consistency. Chelsea are near enough out of the title race and have probably lost the league in the last week because of this situation.
"They have probably got one more bad result in them before it's gone, given the current six-point gap to Manchester City. If Chelsea lose just two more games this season that will be some going, but even that would require City losing four games - you just can't see that happening.
"Manchester City have an unbelievable habit of reeling of victories. You see they've just won eight games on the trot and you're wondering when that happened! We just take it for granted, but Manchester City's form is just phenomenal.
"Chelsea have just got so much to do now, and City are so dominant that six points already looks too many to bridge. City's goal difference is already like having an extra point of the board, another actual point, and a seven-point lead to Chelsea, and it'll be goodnight as far as their title challenge is concerned."
In the latest Essential Football Podcast, host Alice Piper is joined by Ben Ransom and Gerard Brand to discuss an eventful weekend of Premier League football, despite only four games taking place.
PART ONE | Was Spurs 2-2 Liverpool the game of the season? Why Liverpool's weaknesses make for an outstanding spectacle, plus analysis of Man City's 4-0 win over Newcastle and another slip up for Chelsea
PART TWO | Arsenal shine again at Leeds, but do they really need a new striker given Gabriel Martinelli's form? Are Leeds in trouble? And would football really benefit from a Covid circuit break?