Arsenal 4 Leeds United 2
Saturday 14th February 2021 4.30pm
There were some interesting changes to the starting eleven against Leeds after the two defeats in the West Midlands that did for any momentum built up since Christmas in the Premier League.
Culprits for the Wolves defeat, Luiz and Leno, returned, at the expense of Rob Holding and Mat Ryan, although you could have bet money that the Brighton loanee would be benched despite a competent debut at Villa Park. Talking of betting, have you tried the bonus codes for all you need to know when you sign up a bookmaker. In the meantime, we'll wait until the next two matches to see if Holding was merely rested or has fallen below the two club’s two Brazilian centre backs in the pecking order. There was no shortage of cover on the bench – with he, Mari and Chambers in reserve should Luiz or Gabriel get crocked… or indeed sent off.
Dani Ceballos replaced the injured Thomas Partey, whilst Lacazette and Pepe were both dropped to accommodate the return of Aubameyang and the first start of Martin Odegaard – the latter in the same line-up as Emile Smith Rowe. We were informed that Leeds had a wretched record in London under Bielsa, and going further back, footage of Leeds’ last league visit to Arsenal brought back wonderful memories of a 5-0 Invincibles season trouncing in which Thierry scored four. Ah yes, Highbury, and happier days.
With Bielsa’s Leeds we looked forward to an open game and that’s exactly what we got. Arsenal needed that, as the TV gave us another stat – the Gunners had scored 12 goals in 11 home Premier League matches this season. Enough for 11 1-0 wins and 33 points, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Scoring generally has been the main issue this season, and it was good to see a contrast yesterday.
Aubameyang had no right to score from his starting position in the 14th minute, but his slaloming stepovers foxed the Leeds defence and he slotted home nicely, although in truth the visiting keeper had a nightmare game and could have done better. Smith Rowe played mainly on the left with Odegaard more central. It was strange to think Arsenal were playing with a pair of midfield Real Madrid cast-offs, neither of which are actually up for sale as yet.
What looked like a reasonable penalty award for a foul on Saka was overturned after 33 minutes, which made you wonder about a rule which punished David Luiz with a penalty and a red card for seemingly much less less than two weeks ago. Still, six minutes later there could be no doubt about one that was awarded and remained so, when Saka again was poleaxed by the Leeds keeper trying to play a little too much football. Aubameyang took an excellent spot kick and before half-time, the game looked done and dusted as Bellerin was able to fire between the keeper and the post from an angle after some nice build-up play. It was 14th February and watching fans at home had hopes of a Valentine’s Day massacre.
Not long into the second half and that hope looked justified as Aubameyang completed his hat-trick with a header after being set up by good play from Saka and Smith Rowe. It felt like a sit back and enjoy half of football was to follow. And on one level, there was certainly more drama – Auba could have had a fourth and the game continued to be open. However, the two further goals were scored by Leeds and briefly stirred awful memories of Arsenal failing to hold onto a four goal lead at St James’s Park about ten years ago. Mind you they only had ten men then.
The goals were a result of being outmuscled and outjumped at a corner, and Bellerin getting roasted at right back – which happens a little too often for comfort these days.
Willian entered the fray for Smith Rowe just after the hour with the score at 4-1. The question of why he was brought on has been asked, and there is a whole article to be written about the Brazilian including some gags by Doktor Schneide that I will save for another time. However, my thought is simply that Arteta sanctioned the deal and desperately wants Willian to come good to justify the chunk of the club’s wage bill that will be going into the wide man’s bank account until the summer of 2023. So putting him on with the team at three goals up to rest the legs of Smith Rowe made a certain amount of sense in that light. A chance for him to contribute with a win pretty much in the bag against what was really the perfect team for an Arteta to play against.
Only one problem… Willian hardly touched the ball. You wonder how many more chances one of the club’s most underperforming players will get. Still, after yesterday, Arteta would be foolish not to persist with the combination of Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe supporting Aubameyang. It was a pleasure to watch their inter-play at times.
The win was very much needed, given the next six matches see two games against Benfica, as well as facing Manchester City, Leicester, Burnley and Spurs. This might turn out to be a bit of light relief before dark days return – Benfica are not going to be a soft touch and one has to seriously ponder the wisdom of even watching a more rested Manchester City visit the Emirates next Sunday. Still, football is full of surprises, eh? Maybe we’ll see a match-winning performance from Willian…
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