Jesse Marsch says his Leeds side must now “fight for their lives” to escape relegation after a potentially defining day for the club’s Premier League future.
The Yorkshire outfit ended the day in the bottom three for the first time since October as their loss at Arsenal coincided with a resurgent Everton beating Leicester to move to 16th.
Until recent matches, Leeds United looked to have turned a corner under their new boss. Two weeks ago, it was them in 16th, above both the Toffees and Burnley.
They now find themselves level on points with the Clarets and one behind Everton but with a far worse goal difference than both – Everton also have a game in hand.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Marsch told BBC Sport. “We are in the relegation zone but we have to fight for our lives.”
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Marcelo Bielsa was revered at Elland Road for his role in leading the club back to the the top flight, but a run of heavy defeats saw the Argentine sacked and replaced by Marsch in February.
At that point, Leeds had slipped to 16th, two points above the drop zone, and they suffered successive defeats under Marsch before turning the corner with a win over Norwich in March that sparked a five-game unbeaten run.
That ended with a 4-0 defeat by leaders Manchester City last week and coincided with Burnley’s return to form under interim boss Mike Jackson. Everton’s victory over Chelsea last Sunday meant Leeds were dangling perilously close to the drop heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.
Cue another win for Frank Lampard’s side at the same time Marsch’s outfit were getting beat at Emirates Stadium and they find themselves among the division’s bottom three.
“When I came here two months ago I knew this was not going to be easy,” added Marsch. “The group has stayed strong. Our second-half performance highlights the character of the people we have here.
“The fans and the support at this club is unreal. We want to put a performance on the pitch that honours that support.”
It was not so much losing against Champions League-chasing Arsenal that will have concerned Marsch, but the way his side made life hard for themselves in the opening half an hour.
First goalkeeper Illan Meslier’s poor touch gifted Eddie Nketiah an opener – with the striker opting not to celebrate against a club he had a spell on loan with – and a second for the 22-year-old forward made it 2-0 within 10 minutes.
Any hope Leeds had of mounting a comeback then appeared to evaporate when captain Luke Ayling needlessly lunged in on Gabriel Martinelli and was sent off after 27 minutes.
“I think we had a really bad start and dug a hole for ourselves which we didn’t need to,” said Marsch, who added that Ayling has since apologised. “At half-time we talked about keeping our composure and treating the game like it was 0-0. That’s what we did.”
‘We’ve got to find a way to stay strong’
Diego Llorente pulled a goal back for the visitors, a small consolation for Marsch who said “we have to stay positive now, stay strong and forge on”.
The American maintains his side can avoid the drop, with the first of their remaining three games at home against Chelsea on Wednesday, before they host Brighton and then travel to Brentford on the final day.
“I do believe that,” said Marsch when asked if Leeds can still avoid the drop. “And I knew going into these three matches against City, Arsenal and Chelsea, that picking up points was going to be incredibly difficult. I knew that we still could manage to find some points.
“Right now, if we beat Chelsea I would walk away from the three matches and, if you asked me before three points from the three matches I would say ok, that’s ok. That’ll help us.
“Obviously we failed the first two tests and we have another massive test Wednesday night against a team that has a little more rest than us.
“We’ve just got to turn around, find a way to stay strong, put a group on the pitch that’s going to do whatever it takes like they did in the second half and find a way to get our points.
“That’s the only focus right now.”
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