Having played 9 league games prior to this one and having won 8 of them, Arsenal and their fans entered Sunday’s 14:00 kick-off with renewed optimism.
Their narrow 0-1 win over Bodø/Glimt in midweek had not exactly been textbook, but it was nevertheless a result that that would have given Mikel Arteta’s team some heart that, beneath all their intricate play, they can in fact win ugly.
Mikel Arteta clearly seemed to decide that the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the best course of action, and therefore, Arsenal remained unchanged from the team that had defeated Liverpool the week before.
Whatever start either team made in the opening two minutes or so was largely negligible. A powercut at Elland Road resulted in communications between referee Chris Kavanagh and the VAR team being knocked out and the game was abandoned for 40 minutes while the technical difficulties were sorted out.
When the two teams entered the field again some 40 minutes later, the game kicked off, bizarrely, from the first minute once more.
From there, Arsenal seemed a little worse for wear. Leeds were pushing hard on the Arsenal defence and seemed to have identified Thomas Partey as their key pressing trigger.
No matter where they went, Arsenal were simply outnumbered.
Though Arsenal managed to manufacture a number of chances along the way, Leeds were a well-oiled machine. It was clear that Arsenal would need either a bit of magic or a mistake from Leeds in order to take the lead.
In the end, they got both.
A ridiculous cross-field pass from Rodrigo looped back round and seemed to wrong-foot defender Pascal Struijk, who lost the header to Bukayo Saka. Martin Ødegaard took advantage of the loose ball and played an inch-perfect, slide-rule pass through to Saka, who ran onto it and lashed it home from a tight angle to give the visitors the lead.
It would be unfair to say that Arsenal had not entirely deserved the goal, but Leeds had looked the better for it, and both teams trudged in at half-time with plenty to work on.
Whatever can be said of Arsenal’s performance in the first-half, it was nothing compared to their second.
Arsenal were barely able to get out of their own half for the next 45 minutes and were totally and utterly penned in by Leeds.
Barely a minute after the restart, Leeds had the equaliser.
A fantastic cross from Brenden Aaronson was not well-defended by Takehiro Tomiyasu at the back-post and the ball fell for Patrick Bamford, who swiveled past the hapless Gabriel Magalhães, brought the ball down on his chest and turned home the leveller.
However, bizarrely, what looked to be a perfectly straight-forward goal, was ruled out by VAR.
Quite what the VAR team is anyone’s guess. The suggestion seems to be a handball by Bamford in the process, which no one else but the VAR team seemed to see.
Leeds, stung, began to attack with more ferocity. They began to force errors out of the usually solid form of William Saliba and, with a lofted ball over the top, forced him into yet another error, allowing the loose ball to smack onto his outstretched hand and, eventually, a penalty to Leeds.
The atmosphere around Elland Road was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Bamford, already denied his 100th league goal by VAR stepped up to take it and…hit it wide.
Aaron Ramsdale guessed right, but it didn’t look likely that he would have gotten there anyway. Bamford, perhaps too focused on putting the ball into the corner, had pushed it too far wide and out.
With a further look at VAR, it was somewhat bizarre that Leeds had even gotten the penalty in the first-place, given the fact that Rasmus Kristensen had been stood in an offside position when receiving the ball during the build-up.
To Arsenal fans, it may have appeared to be justice, Leeds may not see it that way.
Leeds continued to attack with ferocity and valiance, but as the game began to slip away, it looked like they just wouldn’t be able to make it happen as chance after chance after chance went begging, including a glorious chance for substitute Crysencio Summerville, who skied his effort from close-range.
Then, in the dying moments of stoppage time, more drama.
A collision between Patrick Bamford and Gabriel Magalhães in the penalty area was seen by Chris Kavanagh. Kavanagh didn’t hesitate and pointed to the spot and showed Gabriel a red card for lashing out at Bamford.
Bamford, no doubt readying himself for a rare second bite at the apple, was denied again though, this time by the VAR team.
The VAR team told Kavanagh that Bamford had deliberately barged into Gabriel (an attacking foul) and had caused the Brazilian to lose his balance.
The penalty was rescinded and Gabriel’s red card was downgraded to a yellow.
From there, Arsenal began to try and run the clock out and eventually, the final whistle rang out amidst a chorus of boos from the local fans.
Arsenal against all the odds, had done it.
There isn’t much that can be said of Arsenal’s performance aside from the fact that virtually everything needs to be improved on Thursday and next Sunday.
While Arsenal were not at their best, it’s fair to say that the standard of refereeing, so often the villain of the piece in Arsenal’s games last season was once again at the centre of controversy.
Whatever else can be said of him, the refereeing performance of Chris Kavanagh stands as one of the worst in recent memory. The Manchester referee looked woefully out of his depth all game and didn;t once look to have control over the game or indeed the players.
Arsenal will need to improve, but the standard of refereeing needs to pick up, fast.
Leeds United team:
1.) Illan Meslier
21.) Pascal Struijk
25.) Rasmus Kristensen
5.) Robin Koch
6.) Liam Cooper (c)
12.) Tyler Adams
8.) Marc Roca
7.) Brenden Aaronson
11.) Jack Harrison
23.) Luis Sinisterra
19.) Rodrigo (Bamford 45′)
Leeds United subs:
13.) Kristoffer Klaesson
2.) Luke Ayling
3.) Junior Firpo
14.) Diego Llorente
43.) Mateusz Klich
10.) Crysencio Summerville
42.) Sam Greenwood
30.) Joe Geldhardt
9.) Patrick Bamford
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c)
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Gabriel Jesus
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
3.) Kieran Tierney
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
21.) Fábio Vieira
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Eddie Nketiah
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