Arsenal (3) 4 Leeds United (0) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 14th February 2021. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Cédric Soares; Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13 mins, 41 mins, 46 mins), Hector Bellerin (44 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 47%
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, Simon Long
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Andre Marriner; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
For this rather nervous Valentine’s Day meeting, we are without influential players Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey due to injury, but Bernd Leno and David Luiz are back after having served their suspensions due to the red cards that they received whilst playing against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on 2nd February; also good to see Martin Ødegaard and club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang getting a start in our line-up today too. With only one victory in our last five matches, Arsenal desperately need to show serious intent today. Let’s go!
The early chances in the match fell to us, with Emile Smith-Rowe and Hector Bellerin taking a stab at opening the scoring, only to see their efforts go wastefully over the bar and into the blue. However, our midfield players started to show their infuence on the match, winning balls and spraying good, accurate passes to the forwards. Bernd Leno made a great save from Patrick Bamford, when his powerful header looked dangerous, and a minute or so later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the opening goal of the day, when he cut in from the left-hand side after receiving a pass from Granit Xhaka, and drilled the ball firmly past Illan Meslier into the Leeds United net with his trusty right foot after turning former Gunner Luke Ayling inside out. Our captain is back, and with a vengeance, too! The goal completely energised us, and we started to get first into tackles, first to distribute the ball, which was a pleasure to see. The visitors picked up the odd loose ball here and there, and Jack Harrison took a snap shot on the twenty-fifth minute as a result of this, but Bernd Leno had it well covered, thankfully. On the half-hour, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was unlucky not to score when he collected a David Luiz pass just outside the visitors’ six-yard box when he ran to the byline, but his subsequent shot was blocked by Luke Ayling, who could only watch whilst the ball spun just over the crossbar for an Arsenal corner. A couple of minutes later, Bukayo Saka ran with the ball into the visitors’ penalty area and was bundled off the ball by Liam Cooper; VAR was consulted, as is the way, and Stuart Attwell’s initial judgement was overruled. This unfortunate incident merely spurred us on to domiate play in order to grab that oh-so-elusive second goal. Again, a few minutes later, a penalty was given to us when Illan Meslier dillied and dallied in his own penalty area, body-checked and pushed Bukayo Saka over and onto the ground. Anyway, no problems with VAR this time, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made no mistake with the subsequent penalty, scoring four minutes before the break. Two minutes later, some superb play by Bukayo Saka running and dribbling across the top of the visitors’ penalty area, saw some clever passing movements and running off the ball by our forwards; in the interim, Hector Bellerin collected the ball and blasted it past Illan Meslier inside the near post to make the score three-nil to Arsenal going into the half-time hiatus.
And so, we started the second half off in a good spirit, and it is certainly reflected in the team’s general play. After a bit of tangle out on the left, young Emile Smith-Rowe proceeded into the visitors’ penalty area, flicked the ball over to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who deftly headed it into the net for our fourth of the day, and his first Premier League hat-trick. Bravo! Our dominance in the match assured, we continued hunting for more goals. Unbelievably, on the hour, completely against the run of play, after a Leeds United corner, Pascal Struijk rose above the Arsenal defence to head the ball past Bernd Leno and into our net to get a goal on the scoresheet. Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Willian shortly afterwards, and our march for more goals continued, with Martin Ødegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being unlucky not to score when their respective shots went merely inches wide of the mark. Leeds United also had their chances, when we sloppily gave the ball away, only for a shot from Raphinha to go inches past Bernd Leno’s far left-hand post. And so we went to sleep. Hélder Costa got the visitors’ second from close range after sixty-nine minutes, and with two goals conceded within eleven minutes, suddenly things are not looking so rosy for us anymore, as Leeds United have the wind in their sails at this point in the match. The two goals had us rattled, but still we were able to create goalscoring chances; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was unlucky not to get our fifth of the day when his seventy-fifth minute shot hit the post and bunced out into general play. Mohamed Elneny replaced a fatigued Martin Ødegaard with twelve minutes to go before the end, and his appearance on the pitch zipped the lads up a wee bit in the dying embers of the match. On the eighty-fourth minute, a lovely Arsenal move finished with Bukayo Saka hitting the post from a tight angle, which may not have counted, as the offside flag went up just seconds later. In our next attack, Illan Meslier pushed away a strong shot by Cédric Soares, and in an attempt to shore things up at the back, Dani Ceballos made way for Rob Holding in the eighty-eighth minute, and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hobbling off the pitch after a poor tackle in injury time, the visitors tried to take advantage of our captain’s absence by pressuring us looking for another goal, but it was not to be, and Arsenal finished deserved winners here tonight.
Obviously, the headlines will gravitate towards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Bukayo Saka was magnificent in this match. He caused Leeds United constant issues in and around the penalty area, and was aware of his team-mates at all times. A class act. This win pushed us above today’s opponents into tenth place, two points behind Tottenham Hotpsur, and this much-needed victory shows everyone that on our day, we can be a force to be reckoned with. It was a bit touch-and-go at times in the second half, but overall, we did enough to earn the three points, and the confidence this will install into the chaps for the Benfica match in Rome on Thursday evening could be priceless.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Benfica at Stadio Olimpico, Rome on Thursday, 18th February at 8.00pm(Europa League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.