Leeds United were not quite good enough against Arsenal but Pascal Struijk provided positives once again.
The 21-year-old had a difficult task in replacing the injured Kalvin Phillips.
He is still learning the defensive midfield role and it is always a challenge to adjust to a different position, especially after impressing at centre-back in recent weeks.
Arsenal’s press was also very effective and that made life difficult for Struijk but he coped very well.
We missed Phillips but mainly because his absence forced changes in defence, with Luke Ayling moved back to central defence and Jamie Shackleton playing at right-back.
Struijk boasted a 90% pass accuracy (SofaScore) and conceded possesion only six times despite being put under pressure by Martin Odegaard and others.
He was equally effective in countering Arsenal, completing two tackles and three interceptions.
It is possible that Phillips would not have bettered those stats.
There is another positive to Struijk that Phillips does not provide – his aerial prowess.
Per SofaScore, he won 100% of his aerial duels, and capped off a commanding display in the air by powering in a header to reduce the deficit.
The images above show just how dominant the Dutchman was.
David Luiz and Rob Holding are both ideally placed to deal with the corner but neither can deal with Struijk’s power.
He takes up a clever position that allows him a run on the ball, and this is something he seems to have added to his game recently.
Against Crystal Palace the defender used the same method to attack set-pieces and he could have ended up with a hat-trick.
On this occasion he blazed his header high and wide, but just look at how high he gets – no defender came close to matching him.
The same happened in the case below, but unfortunately Struijk failed to make proper contact with the ball in the image below.
These are examples of the threat Struijk’s poses, and we have lacked that this season.
We have scored just five goals from set-pieces yet conceded 11 – the most in the division per WhoScored.
Marcelo Bielsa has worked on our vulnerability in that department, and it is little surprise that we have improved with Struijk in the side.
In his last seven games at centre-back we have conceded just seven goals and comfortably beaten Leicester, West Brom and Palace.
Injuries to Robin Koch and Diego Llorente are no doubt problematic but Struijk has proven that he can fill in effectively.
It is positive to see his growing confidence on the ball, too, and he may become a very useful versatility option for us moving forward.
Not many Whites supporters would have predicted that when he was criticised earlier this month.
In other Leeds United news, ‘Incredible’ – Exclusive: Pundit wowed as Leeds in hunt for ‘top-class’ ace sold for £36m in ’18.