Arsenal (2) 2 Leeds United (0) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 8th May 2022. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Cédric Soares; Martin Ødegaard, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Zak Swanson, Charlie Patino.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (5 mins, 10 min)
Yellow Cards: Gabriel Magalhães, Takehiro Tomiyasu
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 64%
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Assistant Referees: Harry Lennard, Marc Perry
Fourth Official: Andre Marriner
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR John Brooks; AVAR Dan Robathan
As every match is an important one now, there are no margins for error, nor the arena is one for faint hearts either. Both of the teams here today will need a win (for different reasons), so the reason should lead to an excellent contest between the Yorkshiremen and ourselves. With regards to the match this afternoon, Mikel Arteta has made one change to the side that beat West Ham United last Sunday, with Cédric Soares replacing Nuno Tavares at left-back.
The visitors kicked off this crucial match in the North London sunshine, and the early stages of this game were quite rough and dogged. Bukayo Saka won a free-kick on the right wing, which although went nowhere, certainly tested the Leeds United defenders. After just five minutes, we took the lead in bizarre circumstances, when Illan Meslier failed to control a backpass which allowed Eddie Nketiah to nip in and score, and five minutes later, that man again grabbed his second goal of the match when Gabriel Martinelli crossed a low ball into the Leeds United penalty area from the left wing, for Eddie Nketiah’s left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal, thus extending our lead to two goals. We then continued to pressurise the visitors, who were giving the ball away cheaply as we were actively hunting a third goal now. Gabriel picked up a yellow card for a strong tackle, and after twenty minutes it became obvious that we were by far the most dominant team out there today. Eddie Nketiah almost got a hat-trick when his right-footed shot from the right hand side of the six-yard box went narrowly wide and the visitors were now visibly having difficulty in handling the twin pronged attacks from Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka out on the wings feeding Eddie Nketiah in the centre of the penalty area seemingly at will. With Granit Xhaka, Cédric Soares and Bukayo Saka getting closer to scoring a third goal with excellent chances, it seemed only a matter of time before we got our third goal. After twenty-five minutes, Luke Ayling committed an appalling two-footed tackle on Gabriel Martinelli; initially referee Chris Kavanagh produced a yellow card, but after consulting the pitchside monitor on advice from the VAR team at Stockley Park, he had no choice but to reconsider his decision and dismiss the Leeds United man. Down to ten men, the visitors started to lose both their heads and their discipline, as we started to make good capital on our extra man advantage. With seven minutes of the first half remaining, Gabriel Martinelli drilled an attempt across the six-yard line, as Bukayo Saka won a free-kick which led to Diego Llorente hooking it off the line. So close, so near. For the remaining minutes of the first half (including the four minutes injury time), we just carried in applying intolerable pressure on the visitors’ goal until referee Chris Kavanagh brought matters to a contented and satisfying close (for us).
We started the second half with much anticipation of scoring more goals over the next forty-five minutes, and almost immediately we started to apply pressure on the visitors’ goal; time and time again Gabriel Martinelli was terrorising the Leeds United defence with quick and intelligent running both on and off the ball. It was becoming clear to everyone that the visitors were keeping everyone behind the ball in an attempt to prevent more goals being leaked, but only time will tell if their tactics are successful or not. After six minutes into the new half, Takehiro Tomiyasu slotted the ball to Gabriel, whose left-footed shot from the centre of the box was somehow saved in the centre of the goal by goalkeeper Illan Meslier. Just minutes later, Gabriel Martinelli twisted and turned two Leeds United defenders before shooting at the visitors’ goal, which resulted (eventually) in four consecutive corner kicks, all of which saw the Leeds United defence completely at sixes and sevens in their desire to clear the ball from danger, which they just about did. Gabriel Martinelli was desperately unlucky in not scoring from close range on the hour, and again a cross from Cédric Soares saw our flying winger narrowly shooting wide. After sixty-six minutes, the first corner of the match from the visitors led to a messy goal from Diego Llorente, which was unfortunate to say the least, and totally against the run of play. Just after a silly yellow card received by Takehiro Tomiyasu, a fatigued Bukayo Saka was replaced by Nicolas Pépé a couple of minutes after the visitors’ goal. Unfortunately for us, this goal sparked the visitors into life and they started to play with more desire and purpose now. Gabriel Martinelli went down with cramp, but fortunately was able to return to the game shortly afterwards. Martin Ødegaard went narrowly close with a superb left-footed shot, and just after we had a penalty appeal turned down by the VAR team, Gabriel Martinelli was replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe with twelve minutes of the match remaining on the clock. Almost immediately, Emile Smith-Rowe got into the action, causing Leeds United problems in and around the box, and after he was brought down just outside the visitors’ penalty area, the resulting Martin Ødegaard free kick was easily saved by Illan Meslier. Leeds United’s Dan James won the visitors a free-kick which was pumped forward but Aaron Ramsdale, who has not had too much to do, reacted to the danger and easily gathered the ball. Eddie Nketiah was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette in the first mintue of three minutes’ injury time, and despite some real cut and thrust moments from both teams, we took the three points, thankfully.
In many ways, it was a game of two halves; the first half we utterly dominated the match, scored two excellent goals, and looked as if were going to steamroller Leeds United. Then the second half appeared, and the projected cricket score never materialised, Instead, we allowed the visitors a most fortuitous goal which set our nerves on edge for the time remaining. However, it is what it is, and we got a much-needed three points, and we can enter the North London derby on Thursday evening knowing that a win will ensure us a Champions League place for next season, the last time which we appeared in that illustrious competition being 2016-17. No pressure, chaps. By the way, Eddie Nketiah is the second player to score a brace for Arsenal in the opening ten minutes of a Premier League match, after Nwankwo Kanu in a 3-1 home win over Sunderland at The Old Place on 6th October 2002.
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: Tottenham Hotspur at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday, 12th May at 7.45pm (Premier League). 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