BATTERED Leeds United need a Premier League break as clubs decide on the way forward amid the growing Covid crisis.

The increasing impact of the omicron variant has spurred talks on the protocols surrounding top-flight postponements, which took place yesterday among shareholders.

Five games were postponed on Saturday, with decimated Leeds' 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal at Elland Road the only Saturday fixture to go ahead.

A season circuit-breaker would at least give injury-blighted Leeds added time to regroup after recording three successive defeats under coach Marcelo Bielsa for the first time.

Covid even touched the Leeds squad with Diego Llorente testing positive after the 7-0 hammering at Manchester City.

Plans to replace the Spanish international with youngster Charlie Cresswell went out of the window when he damaged his shoulder in the final training session before the game against the Gunners.

The son of former York City striker Richard Cresswell became the 10th absentee for Leeds, whose entire bench against the in-form North London side comprised Academy players, including 15-year-old Archie Gray.

It meant Robin Koch was forced back into action despite not playing any football since the opening game of the season, while his centre-back partner Luke Ayling played despite rumoured illness.

Bielsa said: “We have eight defenders less and three forwards less. I can’t deny that that’s a difficulty, but I can’t justify the defeat due to the absences.”

He did not adapt to those circumstances by adopting more conservative tactics, but trusted the side he was able to field to play in their usual free-wheeling manner - which backfired.

While the sheer number of absentees could not be ignored, Leeds did not help themselves by continually coughing up possession against a slick unchanged Arsenal side, who could have been well out of sight before their opener on 16 minutes but for some superb saves from Illan Meslier.

Jack Harrison lost the ball, but there were still sufficient players to deal with the Arsenal break before Adam Forshaw was robbed in the box as he dwelt on the ball and Gabriel Martinelli finished emphatically.

Arsenal’s movement destroyed United’s man-for-man marking system and gave Martin Odegaard the freedom of Elland Road, which he exploited to the full. Martinelli, who gave full debutant Cody Drameh a difficult afternoon, netted his second after 28 minutes as Leeds were ripped apart.

Things got worse on the injury front when Harrison was withdrawn to join the lengthening casualty list.

Three minutes before the interval Stuart Dallas’ charge into the Arsenal half was halted by a stray pass. With Leeds totally out of shape, Arsenal swept downfield where more slack defending enabled Bukayo Saka to pick his spot via a deflection for the third goal.

Leeds, roared on by their fans, improved significantly after the interval and were rewarded with a Raphinha penalty after former Leeds loanee Ben White brought down Joe Geldhardt with 15 minutes remaining.

But any hope Leeds had of staging a miracle comeback was snuffed on in the 84th minute when a careless Tyler Roberts pass had Odegaard driving forward to clip the ball to substitute Emil Smith-Rowe to wrap up the points.

Assuming it will be played, Leeds next travel to Anfield to face Liverpool on Boxing Day (12.30pm) where Whites supporters are expecting another difficult watch.