Leeds and Arsenal: What has changed?
(Photo by Visionhaus)

Back in January we saw Arsenal host Premier League hopefuls Leeds United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.

A game that befit the cliché 'a game of two halves' as good as any other. The EFL Championship high-flyers dominated the first half, however it was the top division side that emerged 1-0 victors by the way of a Reiss Nelson goal.

But that was ten months and two national lockdowns ago. What has changed?

The return to the Premier League

There is an obvious change in surroundings for the Whites. Their long-awaited return to the topflight has been complete and they have enrolled on their journey as a Premier League club once again.

It has been a mixed start, but one of which has surprised many of those who doubted their ability.

Putting three past newly crowned champions, Liverpool at Anfield, battling for a 1-1 draw against Manchester City, and dismantling Aston Villa's perfect start to the season with a hat-trick from Patrick Bamford. United are in a different position to where they were in January, but it is no doubt a stronger one.

Premier League status with Premier League quality

The youngsters

A huge contrast that will be noticeable will be the hosts starting eleven. For the FA Cup tie at the Emirates, there were many of the usual suspects on the team sheet - all complemented with a selection of youngsters in true cup tie fashion.

That night in London saw the first start for Robbie Gotts and our first glimpse of Illan Meslier.

Previous to that evening, 20-year-old Gotts had been flagged as making the bench on over 30 occasions, while not making a single appearance. That night was his first chance to show his ability to the fan base and he certainly didn't disappoint.

The now 21-year-old has since moved on to Lincoln City on loan where he has already made an impression. Earlier in the season he won a fan vote for a Man-of-the-Match award.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Several impressive performances 👏<br><br>Who gets your vote for Man of the Match 🤔</p>&mdash; Lincoln City FC (@LincolnCity_FC) <a href="https://twitter.com/LincolnCity_FC/status/1328816505933492225?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 17, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Between the sticks will remain Meslier. However, the questions of 'who is he?' and 'is he good enough?' no longer remain. His fantastic performances in the Championship, and his ever-impressive passing displays have left the question of 'can he keep on doing it?'.

Record signings

Not only will Leeds have a more assured line up, that line up will contain a significant amount more quality.

While injuries have been a concern this season, at least two of West Yorkshire's newest arrivals should take part on Sunday afternoon.

£27m forward Rodrigo Moreno will be ready to return following a positive COVID-19 test result. As he has been already this season, he will be allowed to roam in a number 10 role keeping his opponents on their toes at all times.

Behind him, providing security at the back will be German international Robin Koch. Back in January, it was Gaetano Berardi who was drafted in to play centre half, but following a lengthy injury to his ACL, the Swiss fan favourite is forced to be replaced.

On the bench we are likely to see the face of £20m Brazilian winger, Raphinha. His deadline day move looks a promising acquisition, although he is yet to make a start for the first team.

Arteta taking control

Just two weeks after taking the reins at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was preparing to face Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United.

With barely enough time to unpack his belongings, the Spaniard was facing one of the most respected managers in world football - a manager who inspired his previous boss Pep Guardiola.

Almost a year later, Arteta has had the time to develop an identity in his new North London home. A club that previously lacked direction following the departure of club legend Arsene Wenger, Arteta has begun to steady the ship.

While Arsenal are far from perfect, the once leaky defence is for the most part much more settled and assured.

One of the most impressive achievements of the 38-year-old manager has been nurturing the younger talents and blending them in to the first team mould.

Bukayo Saka has without a doubt been the standout performer in that regard. Not only has he provided much needed energy in his club career, he is already embarking on his international journey at the tender age of 19.

Saka is a talent who plays with little fear, whether that is for Arsenal or for England. It is a trait that will have to be shared amongst the whole squad when travelling to Elland Road. Any hesitation or unwillingness to battle could result in being embarrassed on the road.