Saturday was supposed to be a day with 6 Premier League matches taking place, but the new Omicron variant fo the COVID-19 virus, only 1 match went ahead, Arsenal’s away trip to Elland Road.
Arsenal have looked fairly lacklustre on the road this season, but they were coming up against a Leeds United team who had nearly 10 players out, all with non-COVID-related injuries.
In fact, the team that Leeds put out in their League Cup loss at the Emirates in October, looked more stable than this one.
Arsenal started exceptionally well. Leeds created one or two chances themselves, as is customary under Marcelo Bielsa, but Arsenal never once looked like they were out of control.
Shot after shot was being fired at Illan Meslier and it seemed as though the Frenchman was keeping them in the game for large stretches of the match.
Eventually (and somewhat unsurprisingly), Arsenal broke the deadlock. A fantastic ball from Martin Ødegaard played through Granit Xhaka, who looked to be fouled in the penalty area, but Gabriel Martinelli, capitalising on both the loose ball and the mayhem in the box lashed his effort into the back of the net to give the visitors the lead.
Arsenal pushed on from there and though Leeds cam extraordinarily close with Raphina, they never looked to seriously worry Aaron Ramsdale.
A loose ball in midfield was gratefully preyed upon by Xhaka and he released Martinelli, who looked as though his first touch may have let him down, but he kept his composure and dinked the ball beautifully over the onrushing goalkeeper to double Arsenal’s lead.
Arsenal kept pushing, with Martin Ødegaard once again pulling the strings, he broke through the Leeds line and tried to play in Bukayo Saka, who ran into trouble, but good hussling from Alexandre Lacazette allowed Saka to have another bite at the cherry and his deflected effort rolled in to give Arsenal 3 before half-time.
Arsenal ended the half with the most shots on target in a Premier League first-half since Opta began collating data. A truly impressive half from the visitors.
The second-half was like night and day.
Arsenal didn’t just take their eye off the ball, they turned the whole engine off. A total inability to find players with passes and no real attempt to try and put Leeds to the sword.
It was unsurprising that Leeds found themselves back in the game, courtesy of a Raphina penalty; what was surprising, however, was the manner in which they got the penalty.
Ben White, the former Leeds defender (on loan) and so often a reliable presence at the back, seemed to completely lose his head and scythed down Joe Gelhardt in the penalty area to give the hosts a penalty. It was a bizarre decision and one that very few would have expected from him, but the hosts drew one back.
Arsenal seemed to start taking things a bit more seriously after that. Some good chances were created, but it was eventually wrapped up after substitute Emile Smith Rowe linked up with Ødegaard, who dinked through a Mesut Özil-esque ball for the England international to smash into the back of the net for Arsenal’s fourth.
The final whistle blew on a very well deserved victory for Mikel Arteta’s men.
The performance of the first-half was exactly what Arsenal fans had been begging to see all season. The caveat of the performance was that Leeds were utterly decimated by injuries and they were playing their weakest possible team, made up of U23s, bench players and U18s, however, Arsenal’s performance was no less praise-worthy as a result.
The second-half was an abysmal showing and was only slightly made up by Emile Smith Rowe’s goal. The performance spoke to Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s rather bizarre mentality to arrogantly sit back and assume the other team won’t attempt to lay a finger on them.
Arteta himself was a strange figure on the day too. He was animated on the touchline and well-deserving of his moniker of “The Man Who Never Sits Down”, but it felt a little unnecessary. The constant dictation of play, the ever-growing need to insert himself into the player’s performances and constant barking of instructions, while it seems to be working recently – especially in the win over West Ham – it does also feel as though Arsenal are leaning less into a player’s individual quality and more into Arteta’s manic need to control every aspect of the game. Managers like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp of course bark instructions from the touchline, but never to anywhere near the same extent, perhaps their tactics and style are easier to understand.
Two standout performers for Arsenal were Martin Ødegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Ødegaard seems to have finally found his niche at Arsenal. Forsaken by Real Madrid and utterly dismissed by sections of the fanbase upon his arrival, Ødegaard has proven his doubters wrong over the past few weeks. The amount of chances the Norweigian created against Leeds was astounding and was unlucky not to finish the game with two or three more assists. His reluctance to shoot is a concern, but given his overall performance, he can perhaps be forgiven.
As for Takehiro Tomiyasu, the Japanse fullback is slowly becoming Arsenal’s new Mr. Dependable. The Japanese international has been an immovable object on Arsenal’s right-hand flank this season and when he was substituted for Cédric Soares, Arsenal instantly looked 10 times more vulnerable.
It was a fantastic win for Arsenal, but now their attentions turn to Sunderland in the League Cup, where fans will be hoping for a glimpse of players such as Folarian Balogun and Charlie Patino.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (Cédric Soares 63’)
4.) Ben White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
5.) Thomas Partey
7.) Bukayo Saka (Smith Rowe 78’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Tavares 85’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Leeds United team:
1.) Illan Meslier
37.) Cody Drameh
5.) Robin Koch
2.) Luke Ayling (c)
15.) Cameron Dallas
43.) Mateusz Klich (Greenwood 78’)
4.) Adam Forshaw
11.) Tyler Roberts
22.) Jack Harrison (Summerville 37’ (McCarron 81’))
30.) Joe Gelhardt
Leeds United subs:
13.) Kristoffer Klaesson
54.) Nohan Kenneh
52.) Kris Moore
26.) Lewis Bate
38.) Crysencio Summerville
45.) Liam McCarron
47.) Jack Jenkins
63.) Archie Gray
42.) Sam Greenwood