Leeds United (0) 1 Arsenal (3) 4
Elland Road, Beeston, Leeds LS11 0ES
Saturday, 18th December, 2021. Kick-off time: 5.30pm
(4-4-1-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli; Martin Ødegaard; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Emile Smith-Rowe, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah.
Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (16 mins, 28 mins), Bukayo Saka (42 mins), Emile Smith-Rowe (84 mins)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 49%
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistant Referees: Eddie Smart, Scott Ledger
Fourth Official: John Brooks
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Michael Oliver; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
Due to the ongoing COVID-19/Omicron situation, our match at Elland Road tonight is the only Premiership game being played today. Having said that, if we take the bull by the horns and win this match, we can close the gap on Chelsea to just five points. All to play for! We are unchanged from the midweek victory over West Ham United, although goalkeeper Bernd Leno is fit to return to the bench, replacing young Arthur Okonkwo. Emile Smith-Rowe also remains on the substitutes’ bench tonight; however, there is no room in the today’s squad for Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, following a serious breach of club discipline, apparently.
As befits the long history of these Leeds United versus Arsenal matches, the game started off in a physical manner, with a lot of push’n’shove from both sides. Having said that, we had the best of the opening stages of the game, with superb efforts from Kieran Tierney, Alexandre Lacazette and Martin Ødegaard testing the resolve of goalkeeper Illan Meslier. The game stopped briefly because of an accidental clash of heads between Jack Harrison and Takehiro Tomiyasu; thankfully neither were hurt and the match carried on. Both teams settled down after the preliminaries, with some good probing play being enacted out there, although high tempo in its execution. After just sixteen minutes, Bukayo Saka won the ball on the right wing and charged forward; Adam Forshaw then lost the ball to Alexandre Lacazette, and as the ball fell loose, Gabriel Martinelli took advantage and scored the opening goal of the match in a strong, clinical manner. The goal merely accelerated our domination even further, with some wonderful play from all departments, with little resistance showed from the defence of the home side. We almost grabbed a second when Kieran Tierney found himself unmarked in the box and placed a powerful shot towards the bottom left-hand corner of the goal which Illan Meslier tipped around the post. And sure enough, the second goal did finally come on the twenty-eighth minute when we won the ball in the centre circle and Granit Xhaka played a superb through ball to Gabriel Martinelli; he raced into the penalty area, and then patiently waited for Illan Meslier to go down to his feet before chipping the ball over the goalkeeper to grab his (and our) second goal of the game. A minute or so later, we nearly scored again, when Martin Ødegaard pushed the ball across to Alexandre Lacazette, whose first-time shot was somehow saved by Illan Meslier from point-blank range. With three minutes of the first half remaining, Bukayo Saka received the ball on the wing and cut inside. The ball broke to Alexandre Lacazette, who quickly passed it back to Bukayo Saka, who then hit a shot which was deflected off a defender and ricocheted into the bottom corner of the net, flying past a hapless Ilan Meslier. In the remaining time that remained of the first half, Martin Ødegaard was desperately unlucky not to score, and although we comfortably dominated, Arsenal finished the first forty-five minutes of the game being three goals to the good.
The second half started with much expectation, and the game did not disappoint. Just as we finished the first half, this period continued in pretty much the same vein. The home side spent a large chunk of the first ten minutes trying to take the game to us, but not very successfully, it has to be said. Takehiro Tomiyasu was playing magnificently down the right wing, and got fouled several times for his troubles. Unfortunately, just after the hour mark, our flying full-back was unable to carry on due to injury, so he was replaced by Cédric Soares. Unbelievably, it took twenty-three minutes for us to have our first goal-coring chance since the break, as the expected goal fest did not materialise; however Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli played a one-two in the penalty area and Bukayo Saka dragged his shot just wide of the far post, sadly. With a quarter of an hour of the game remaining, Ben White brought down Joe Gelhardt in our penalty area; Andre Marriner pointed to the spot, and Raphinha sent Aaron Ramsdale the wrong way to get a goal back for the home team. Just after the penalty incident, Mikel Arteta brought on Emile Smith-Rowe for Bukayo Saka in order to bring fresh legs to the proceedings. The home side certainly looked more confident since their goal, but incredibly, Tyler Roberts lost the ball in midfield and we broke out and ran for the Leeds United goal. Martin Ødegaard cruised forward and chipped a clever pass into the path of Emile Smith-Rowe, who cleverly let the ball bounce and simply blasted it past Illan Meslier and into the back of the net for our fourth goal of the night. With four minutes of the match remaining, Martin Ødegaard was replaced by Nuno Tavares and for the rest of the match, (which included three minutes injury time), we simply cruised towards the final whistle and a superb victory.
During the first half, we made the home side look like also-rans; how we never managed to score yet even more goals was something short of unbelievable, really. Although Leeds United came back at us in the second half, overall they were second best throughout, as we thoroughly deserved our victory. Lots of great performances out there tonight, all of which were more than encouraging going into the Carabao Cup quarter-final match against Sunderland on Tuesday night. And, more importantly, we are fourth in the Premiership table for Christmas 2021, which is a superb achievement within itself. A piece of history: During this match tonight, Arsenal became the third club to score more than 7,000 goals in the English top flight, after Everton (7,139) and Liverpool (7,069). Keep going, chaps!.
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: Sunderland at the Emirates on Tuesday, 21st December at 7.45pm(Carabao Cup). Be there, if you can. 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.