Arsenal made it much more interesting than it needed to be today against Leeds United. The Gunners prevailed 2-1, but up 2-0 after 10 minutes and up a man from the 27th, Mikel Arteta’s side should have put the match out of reach well before Leeds got one back midway through the second half. It made for a much nervier, tense finish to the match than it had any business being.
Top teams put matches like that away by going 3 or 4-nil up. Arsenal squandered several chances to put the game to bed, with Gabriel Martinelli, who otherwise had a great game, being the primary culprit. On the other hand, when the final whistle sounded, the Gunners claimed all three points and that’s what really matters.
Arsenal started the match all over Leeds and were rewarded for their pressure when Eddie Nketiah steered an Illan Meslier mistake into the back of the net. Nketiah has made a habit of chasing down defenders and keepers since returning to the starting lineup, and his workrate paid off again. He’s only in position to capitalize on a loose touch if he’s running down so-called lost causes.
Five minutes later, it was Nketiah at the double. Gabriel Martinelli got around the outside and found Nketiah with his cutback. It was a nice finish from the striker, the ball was a bit behind him and he did well to drag his foot / shape his body to steer the ball home.
Things went from bad to worse for Leeds in the 27th minute when Luke Ayling put in a wild, dangerous tackle, likely out of frustration, against Martinelli. Referee Chris Kavanaugh issued a yellow card first but after a VAR review, it was upgraded to a straight red. Absolutely the right call. Ayling left his feet and went in studs up with both boots. I’m going to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt and say that the angle made it difficult for him to see how bad the challenge was in live action because on replay, it was as clear of a straight red as you’ll see.
Leeds were perhaps fortunate to not have another man sent off, too. In the aftermath of the VAR review, Raphina was cautioned for dissent but kept jawing at the referee. He had to be pulled away by his teammates, or else he might have talked his way into a second yellow in quick succession.
The second half was a mostly tepid affair. As mentioned earlier, Gabriel Martinelli missed some good chances on volleys. Martin Ødegaard, who was magnificent on the day, dragged a shot wide. Granit Xhaka couldn’t find a bouncing ball in the box. The Gunners had their chances but didn’t convert.
The scoreline flatters Leeds, honestly. Arsenal created enough to get a third or fourth goal. Leeds managed three shots in the match, all of set pieces, scoring off a corner, a rarity for Arsenal this season — only the second conceded from one all year. The Gunners controlled the match and suffocated the visitors. At the same time, all it takes is one mistake for a 2-1 win to become a 2-2 disaster. Somehow Arsenal have managed to concede 13 goals in their last nine Premier League matches oof 9.75 xG. Surely that trend will turn around soon, right? Thursday’s North London Derby would be a fantastic time for that.
Granit Xhaka was quite good (again) on the afternoon, including a few key defensive interventions. Takehiro Tomiyasu was his incredibly solid self, which is comforting. Mohamed Elneny put in another consistent, mistake-free shift. Bukayo Saka was dangerous and perhaps more importantly, taken off in the second half to get some rest.
On the negative side, Cedric had a mediocre game. He does some things well enough, but he gives the ball away too often with aimless crosses floated to nobody in particular. Nicolas Pépé was dreadful in substitute appearance and was seen getting a dressing down from assistant coach Albert Stuinvenberg at full time.
Regardless of what you thought of the performance, Arsenal won. The magic number to finish fourth is 6 points — that is either points won by Arsenal or dropped by Spurs. If the Gunners win the North London Derby on Thursday, they qualify for the Champions League (and celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day). If they draw, they’ll need a win over either Newcastle or Everton. If Arsenal lose on Thursday, they’ll still control their fate but would need to win both remaining matches. Let’s just wrap things up on Thursday, yeah?