It is funny how the end result often makes such a dramatic impact on how you feel about a game. Because when the final whistle went I felt relief at fact we’d managed to hold on. Having been in the ground on that infamous day at St James’ Park in which we drew 4-4 having been four goals up, as an Arsenal fan, I know that it is never really over when it’s us.
Nor Leeds for that matter, because of the way they play football and the chances they create. But we did pick up the three points and for two thirds of this game Arsenal were pretty brilliant I have to say.
There is so much to talk about for this game so I’ll start chronologically in terms of the starting line up and opening minutes before we scored our goal. I think Arteta had a bit of an eye on our upcoming fixtures and that is why we saw a little bit of rotation. Thomas Partey’s injury meant that we would always have to switch it up in midfield and in came Ceballos, who I thought had a very good game alongside Xhaka. Odegaard through the middle and Smith-Rowe on the left, with Saka on the right, meant that Aubameyang had young legs around him and I think that was telling too.
his first goal was a well worked and a fine finish, but that is the type of position we need to get Auba in more. If we feed him and he gets chances in the box, he will score, so the move to have him play centrally last night worked perfectly I thought. His movement in the box is what gets him his chances and that is why he was able to get his goals. Just look at the fourth goal we scored as an example, that running, in off the back post, to nod one home.
We looked up for it. Leeds were missing Kalvin Phillips and had he been available I’m in no doubt that they would have been better; he is their deep-lying distributor and often the man who will collect the ball from his ‘keeper in the build up to the attacks. His absence meant that Mellier was having to clip the ball wide left to Alioski, for example and when Leeds did that, Bellerin was pushed high up the pitch to win the ball back and force turnovers in possession closer to their goal. That makes it even more difficult to defend and we profited from it on a number of occasions. You could also see it in the build up to the fourth goal, where Ceballos nicked the ball from Costa, we fed it to Smith Rowe who picked out Auba for the header at the back post.
Arteta got the tactics right in this game. Spot on, in fact, I think. We won the ball back, we were hungry and incisive, we looked like we had a point to prove. Maybe those perceived injustices of the last few weeks were fuel for the team. But we can’t escape any controversy, which is why when Saka was brought down in the first penalty, of course it was going to go to VAR and be disallowed. And here we are again talking about inconsistency. David Luiz’s red card and penalty was less contact than the foul on Saka and yet the referee ruled it out. Last weekend Mo Salah felt the tiniest of touches on the arm and went down. VAR rules that the decision is a penalty. I have seen this morning an angle in which Saka’s foot hits the defender as he’s in behind him. It is a penalty. Yet here we are with incompetent refereeing again.
Thankfully we don’t need to dwell on it because we got the win and we also got the second penalty after Saka closed down the ‘keeper. Eve VAR couldn’t rule that one out and when Auba converted it, it felt like we were on the right path. So when Bellerin got the third on the stroke of halftime it felt like the game was dead and buried. Again it was Saka dancing through the Leeds defnece and across the penalty box, but it was also a fine clip from Auba and then good little nutmeg by Ceballos to give Bellerin that opportunity to get in on goal.
Three-nil at halftime, we get an early on in the second half to make it four and Arsenal are home and hosed.
Except we all know we aren’t and despite the fact we have a good defensive record this season, we contrived to make it a lot more difficult for ourselves than we had to. The first goal from a corner was avoidable I thought. At first I wondered whether Luiz was poor for the header but he had a standing jump compared to the Leeds defender, who had the run on him. But quite why Bukayo Saka was tasked with marking a guy a foot taller than him is a strange one for me. I would have thought one of the centre halves would have picked him up but herein lies the problem with having a mixture zonal marking and man marking. If you go man-to-man and pick up their most dangerous threats from set pieces, we probably avoid that goal.
But hey, we’re still ahead by three, so no worries, right?
Heh, Arsenal be Arsenaling, you know? Helder Costa’s finish was tidy enough, but Bellerin doesn’t do enough to prevent the ball coming in from wide right and we should have dealt with it better. And suddenly we’re starting to get a little worried. Leeds began to create more chances and for about five minutes we started to look a little ragged. Mikel had to change it and of course he did, with Willian, Elneny and Holding coming on for Smith-Rowe, Ceballos and Odegaard. There’s been a few people lamenting the Willian move and I too didn’t like it, but I could kind of get it, because Arteta was probably thinking “if you can’t do it when we are four goals up and cruising, when can you do it?”. Well, we had our answer because I don’t remember him making nay impact at all. Quite what Martinelli has to do to get on in place of Willian is beyond me, but Arteta must surely be getting to the stage where Willian just isn’t an option in any stage.
Still, let’s not dwell too much on that because whilst he probably got a few of the subs wrong, his overall game plan worked and we created chances and got goals. We even hit the crossbar and post and whilst Leeds had more possession, I thought this was a game in which we really delivered in terms of end product and big chances created.
It was the perfect tonic in terms of morale for a team who has four very tough games coming up in the next fortnight. I hope this provides the confidence boost we all need.
Catch you all tomorrow.