Leeds United (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 1
Elland Road, Beeston, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS11 0ES
Sunday, 16th October 2022. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Takehiro Tomiyasu; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard (c), Gabriel Martinelli; Gabriel Jesus.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Eddie Nketiah, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Fabio Vieira, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Reiss Nelson, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Matt Turner.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (35 mins)
Yellow Cards: William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 54%
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Assistant Referees: Dan Cook, Dan Robathan
Fourth Official: Michael Oliver
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Paul Tierney; AVAR Wade Smith
A Sunday afternoon fixture at Elland Road is certainly a mouth-watering prospect for everyone involved with these two clubs; the atmosphere is always electric, the football is frenetic, and a physical battle between the teams is on the cards. This West Yorkshire ground has never been an easy place for a visiting club to ply their trade, and armed with that information, the boys have to impose themselves quickly in order to grab those precious three points and to remain top of the Premiership greasy pole to get some dayight, however small, between ourselves and the men from the Etihad. For today’s match, Mikel Arteta has recalled our top bandit Gabriel Jesus, who was rested for the Europa League victory away to Bodø/Glimt seventy-two hours ago, whilst Mohamed Elneny, Emile Smith-Rowe and Oleksandr Zinchenko and are long-term absentees due to injury.
Amazingly, a couple of minutes after kick-off, referee Chris Kavanagh has paused the match because the officials have lost all contact with VAR and goal-line technology! Was not this all tested before the game? Obviously not. Chris Kavanagh has ran over to his assistant (and the fourth official) to discuss what their next steps are. The home side were waiting to take a throw-in but have been told to stand down by he match officials. Some of the players have started having a kickabout to stay warm, meanwhile the supporters in the ground do not understand what’s going on, as no announcement has been made. Utter chaos. The word is that the IT staff have come down to try and resolve the situation, whilst the two managers are in conversation with Chris Kavanagh, and after that both Mikel Arteta and Jesse Marsch are giving their teams a talk on the touchline. Whatever next? As the rule is that you are not allowed to play Premiership matches without VAR, perhaps the issue is a power surge or even a good old fashioned power cut. The players and staff are now back in their respective changing rooms, and the fans are still sat in their seats but nobody knows when or if the match will be restarted. After half an hour, the officials are out on the pitch bouncing the ball over the line to check the goal-line technology, as some of the players are now warming up. Chris Kavanagh is now checking the goal-line technology again, whilst the stadium announcer is thanking everyone for their patience which brings a universal cheer across Elland Road.
After forty minutes delay, we have started where we left off, with Leeds United restarting matters with a throw-in, after which they had the first chance of the match when Luis Sinisterra’s snap shot went inches wide of the post. After some of the usual backwards and forwards, we are controlling things at this moment in time. Granit Xhaka and Martin Ødegaard did link-up on the edge of the box but Granit Xhaka could not quite tee up Thomas Partey in the end for a shot, so the chance to score went wasted. After Aaron Ramsdale made an important save from Rodrigo, we moved quickly up the field ending in a superb chance by Bukayo Saka that ended in a corner kick which went nowhere, despite an excellent effort from Gabriel Jesus. Again, goalie Aaron Ramsdale kept us in the game following a sloppy pass-back from Takehiro Tomiyasu, which put us in extreme danger. A few minutes later, Ben White curled a ball in deep towards the back post where Gabriel Martinelli was waiting; he swiped for the volley but the ball did not reach him as Rasmus Kristensen came in to make a crucial interception to prevent a certain goal. This match may have been delayed, but it is now played at a frenetic pace at both ends of the pitch. The ball was immediately sent back into the penalty area where Gabriel Martinelli was waiting but he could not quite head it in the net. An attempt by Luis Sinisterra was palmed away by Aaron Ramsdale for a corner, and again our goalkeeper kept us in the game saving a shot from point-blank range by Pascal Struijk unbelievably. At the other end, Gabriel Martinelli sent a ball into the middle, which was left by Granit Xhaka, but Martin Ødegaard could not get his feet together, so he managed to backheel it to Gabriel Jesus, who chipped the ball over the bar from about two yards out. Such excitement! Martin Odegaard then took a free-kick from twenty-five yards from the goal, which went over the wall as he tried to put it into the bottom right corner; goalkeeper Illan Meslier got down low to gather it in, and although it was probably going wide, he made sure that he got the ball. Ten minutes before the break, Martin Ødegaard slotted the ball to Bukayo Saka, who wasted no time in scoring with an excellent right-footed shot from a difficult angle on the right to the high centre of the goal, to open the scoring here at Elland Road. The goal appeared to fire up the home side, with Luis Sinisterra making a spirited attempt to score, but defender Ben White was on hand to ensure that he got nowhere near it. The home side are a real threat on the break, but as the game ebbed away to half-time, it became evident that we would go into the break one goal ahead, which we did.
The second half began in earnest with the only change being Patrick Bamford (replacing Rodrigo) for the home side; within seconds of his appearance on the pitch, he scored a goal which was disallowed by VAR because he fouled Gabriel as he scored the goal that never was. The disallowed goal certainly fired up both the players and the crowd who felt the VAR decision was unjustified, and Marc Roca played a nice one-two to get in the box from the left but his pass across our penalty area was easily interecepted by our defence, however, a few moments later, Marc Roca sent a long ball over the top for Luis Sinisterra to run onto, which was easily cut out by Ben White. Shortly afterwards, Gabriel Martinelli rolled the ball back for Martin Ødegaard and he hit a strong shot, which was deflected out for a corner and although we appealed for handball, our pleas are very quickly dismissed by Chris Kavanagh. Just before the hour, Jack Harrison was penalised for a push on Takehiro Tomiyasu after he had raced in behind him on the right, and after the resulting free-kick went nowhere, the home side came back at us with a Luis Sinisterra effort, which was blocked, then Takehiro Tomiyasu hooked it away. Leeds United are trying to find holes in our defence and are desperately looking to capitalise on a possible weakness. Sadly, William Saliba handled the ball in our penalty area a couple of minutes later, for which he received a yellow card; a penalty was given and fortunately Patrick Bamford blasted the ball wide which was a real let-off. The home side really had the bit between their teeth now, and then again we were fortunate not to concede a goal when Brenden Aaronson slotted the ball across to Luis Sinisterra in the middle of our penalty area, but his shot was blocked by Gabriel just in front of the goal-line, which was an incredible let-off. We were holding out very well from relentless attacks by the home side, and after Patrick Bamford had a penalty appeal denied by the officials, Mikel Arteta made his first substitution of the afternoon after seventy-three minutes when Fabio Vieira replaced Martin Ødegaard, who handed his captain’s armband to Granit Xhaka and trotted slowly off the Elland Road pitch, to much derision and abuse from the home crowd. Two or three minutes later, Kieran Tierney replaced Ben White, which tactically saw Takehiro Tomiyasu switching across to right-back and Kieran Tierney slotting in at his natural left-back position. Again our hearts were in our mouths when William Saliba was there on the goal-line to clear as a Leeds United corner whipped in and it was scrambled away. At this late stage in the game, we are literally hanging on, as the home side are totally in the ascendancy in all areas of the game, so much so, that Gabriel Jesus is isolated in the centre of the pitch, hoping for a clearance or a pass to run onto, which just is not happening at this moment in time. With eight minutes of the game remaining, Eddie Nketiah and Rob Holding replaced Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka in order to shore things up at the back to try to hang on to these precious three points. Amazingly, with just four minutes left on the clock, Eddie Nketiah’s right-footed shot from the right side of the six-yard box was close, but missed to the right and hit the side netting, courtesy of a pass from Fábio Vieira. So close. Game management is our indulgence now. In injury time, all hell broke loose when Leeds United were given a penalty and Gabriel was sent off, as he was adjudged to have kicked out at Patrick Bamford after a shove in the penalty area. The assistant referee saw it and had informed Chris Kavanagh, who had given a penalty and dismissed the Arsenal man. The referee consulted VAR and looked at the touchline monitor, and thankfully both the red card and penalty were cancelled out and Gabriel was given a yellow card instead, which was unbelievable when it was seen that Patrick Bamford fouled him first. Arsenal took the subsequent free-kick and then Gabriel Martinelli went to the ground claiming a free-kick and the players were confronting each other with emotions running high; Chris Kavanagh blew the whistle to bring the match to an end a couple of minutes later and an afternoon of high drama came to an end.
What an afternoon of high drama for everyone in West Yorkshire! Despite all this and more, we somehow managed to come through it and collect our fourth clean sheet away from home in this campaign, which shows our mental toughness and a desire to keep it together at all costs. With a power cut which halted play after just twenty-three seconds, and unbelievable pressure on our goal in the second half, we held it all together to grind out the result and claim our place at the top of the Premiership tonight. There were a lot of lessons learned, and a lot of character building as well at Elland Road today, and the boys passed the test admirably with flying colours.
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: PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates on Thursday, 20th October at 6.00pm(Europa 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
Never in doubt.