A blistering 47 minutes of entertaining football from an attack-minded Arsenal team blew Leeds United away at the Emirates yesterday and secured our first win in four league games.
An Aubameyang hat trick – welcome back Captain! – a full debut for Odegaard and a performance of great bravery and maturity from Saka all contributed to a return of the feel good factor.
After 47 minutes, when we were 4-0 up, we allowed the visitors to get back in the game. Whether we got over-confident or Leeds just finally got their act together is hard to say, but when they pulled it back to 4-2 many a bottom lip was nervously quivering among the Arsenal faithful.
Most of us still remember the awful day when we blew a 4-0 lead away at Newcastle United (mostly thanks to an utterly inept display of refereeing by ‘Fat’ Phil Dowd). But despite one or two close shaves we saw this one home safe, so this is a day for focusing on the positives, of which there were many.
First and foremost was the return to form (and exuberance) of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang: club captain, goal scorer extraordinaire and, of late, a shadow of his former self. Today the sun shone (metaphorically), the shadow disappeared and we got the real thing. Whatever private travails have been troubling him seemed banished – he just looked happier.
Did the goals bring back the happiness or did the happiness bring back the goals? I’ll leave that one for the philosophers among you. What certainly played a part was Mikel Arteta’s decision to start him as the central striker.
I have generally been against using Auba in that role because, frankly, it has seldom worked in the past, leaving the player isolated and unable to influence the game. Yesterday it did work. Why? The key is in the players supporting him in that role. Previously he would be relying on the likes of Elneny, Xhaka, Willock and Willian to create openings for him, but in the very attacking Arsenal line-up that Arteta put out yesterday he was supported by some really positive players: Smith Rowe, Saka, Odegaard, Ceballos.
With that superabundance of creativity, the captain was not left exposed because (a) the quick passing and movement between those players managed to repeatedly break the lines of the Leeds defenders and (b) those defenders could not double up on Auba while other men in red and white were dancing through their ranks like acrobats.
Auba’s first goal came from a familiar position: cutting into the box from the left flank and scoring with his right foot. His step-overs confused the Leeds defender and he surprised the goalkeeper by shooting low in the left hand corner (the ‘keeper’s right).
Soon after that the outstanding Saka jinked into the box only for a Leeds defender to run across him without making any contact with the ball and barge him to the ground: clear penalty (as the referee also thought). Cue the VAR review. The ref was called to ‘take a look at the monitor’ and, lo and behold, he changed his mind. Utterly disgraceful, because the ref is supposed to be called to the monitor only when there is a clear and obvious error, which was most definitely not the case here.
But Saka would not be denied and, minutes later, he chased down the young opposition ‘keeper, who ended up fouling our striker in the box. This one was so blatant that even the VAR officials were too embarrassed to try to overturn it.
Auba hammered a perfect penalty into the side netting – two nil. The third came from a clever ball across the penalty area from Aubameyang, leading to some lovely neat pass-and-move involving Smith Rowe, Bellerin, Ceballos and back to Bellerin again to drive the ball home. As the half time whistle blew I thought we’d seen the best half of football by Arsenal this season. We have had some other good spells, but they were marred by not taking our chances – this time we took them.
Within two minutes of the restart we were four up. Smith Rowe picked out Aubameyang at the back post for an unchallenged header. The TV pundits said it was a misguided shot from Emile. I watched his body language carefully and, to me, it clearly looks like he saw his captain and decided to pick him out. He certainly has the ability to do just that and is also, I feel, a player who more naturally sees himself as a provider than a goalscorer, making the intended pass the more likely probability.
Leeds finally woke up and pulled one back with a powerful header from Struijk (who managed to lose Luiz). That was on 58 minutes. Ten minutes later they got a second through Costa. By this stage Willian had been brought on for Smith Rowe. The hapless Brazilian failed to press along with his team mates, allowing Leeds to break forward quickly and grab a goal.
Cue some nervous moments with a couple of Leeds efforts going close and Luiz making one terrific block in the penalty area. If Leeds had got a third I dread to think what might have happened. But we held firm and banked the points.
A good day.
Leno – 7
No real chance with the goals, made a couple of good stops when called on.
Bellerin – 7
Took his goal well and linked up well with the forwards at times, but (somewhat typically) was left exposed defensively a few times.
Luiz – 7
Probably should have done better on Leeds’ first goal and had low passing accuracy (mainly through having to hoof it long when Leeds were pressing). But his defending was pretty solid.
Gabriel – 7.5
A decent performance. He seems to have shaken off the post-injury rust.
Cedric – 7
Tested the Leeds ‘keeper with a wicked shot and did pretty well on both the defensive and offensive ends, without being spectacular.
Xhaka – 7.5
Who would have thought Granit would turn into such a steady and reliable player? The metronome in our midfield.
Ceballos – 7.5
A positive selection from Arteta. Dani had a good game and linked well with the talented youngsters ahead of him (and with Auba of course).
Smith Rowe – 7.5
Speed of thought, speed of feet, speed of passing. I love watching this kid. He was not always in the thick of the action but whatever “it” is, he has it. Also did some excellent tracking back when Leeds had possession.
Odegaard – 7
A fine full debut from the loanee, who looks like a class act. I did not imagine him and Smith Rowe starting together, but between them they could be a devastatingly effective twin pivot to unpick even the most recalcitrant of defences.
Saka – 8
I’m running out of superlatives for Bukayo. It’s not just that he runs, passes and dribbles so well. It’s that he does it in ways and in places that really affect the game. Should have had two penalties, not one. Was a thorn in the Leeds side for the whole match.
Aubameyang – 9
A great ‘Gentleman’s Hat Trick’ (one from open play, one from a dead ball and one from a header). He has scored five in his last two starts. If he’s back to the Auba we know and love so well for the rest of the season that’s (literally) a game changer for us.
Willian – 4
As others have said, he just seems to suck the energy out of the team whenever he comes on.
Elneny – 6.5
Came on on 78 minutes and was his usual tidy, industrious self. Contributed to us safely seeing out the game.
Holding – N/A
Got a couple of minutes at the end to help shore up the defence.
PEA Souper – Like it Rocky!
Can’t disagree with anything you’ve written. We will have much greater tests in the coming weeks.
Luiz & Bellerin worry me in defence. As ever was the case.
If you got the pun you’re showing your age Pete 😀
The report is refreshing, just like the game was.
At 4:2 there was some nervy moment true but we kept ourselves together and then hitting the woodwork twice showed our commitment.
Some might say we were lucky with the Leeds goalie but we could have scored a couple of other and we were denied by the VAR.
It long may continue.
Thanks once again Rocky, I love reading your match reports after a stylish win. It’s a great celebration of the game and perhaps a glimpse of the ambition of Arteta-ball in the future. If the midfield is solid (with a fully fit Partey alongside Xhaka) and Tierney providing those surging runs behind we have the prospect of seeing a formidable and balanced (most important) team of the like we haven’t seen for over a decade.
It’s too early to get carried away, injuries and players moving on have previously pulled teams apart in the past when they seemed to have similar potential.
@Rocky my Mum told me all about them!
btw is PEA using boot polish to fill in his hair line? Maybe it’s a new style?
Thanks Rocky, a great read. I thought we were very good and with the attacking players we have at our disposal I prefer it when we line up to play on the front foot.
I like the look of Odegaard and really hope he enjoys it with us so much that he pushes Madrid for a move in the summer. I love that trio of him, Saka and ESR.
We could even go 1 stage further with our attacking line up and play an attacking 4 behind a lone striker by playing Martinelli on the attacking left, Saka on the right with ESR and Odegaard linking up in the central attacking positions.
That would require the lone holding midfield player to be specialist enough and disciplined enough to play that role alone though and I’m not sure if we have that in our ranks, but maybe Elneny fits that description the closest. I wonder if Chambers could sit in front of the defence and allow us to play an attacking 4 behind the striker?
The other key thing is how this system with these players allowed us to play Aubamayeng in the number 9 position. I have been one that was not sure of him as a number 9 as his hold up play with back to goal is not quite on point. Lacazette is better playing the high line with his back to goal.
However we can potentially have 2 options now and can play Auba as the 9, but almost more as a false 9 rather than out and out number 9. PEA’s natural instinct to pull wide left at times means he can be found there as the link player rather than in a high central position with back to goal.
This can work really well if the 3 or 4 attacking players behind him are ones that make central attacking runs beyond him. They need to be players that have a hunger and confidence to make the runs into the box in central areas when Auba has spun wide left.
Saka, ESR, Martinelli and Odegaard all do this which makes playing Auba as a 9, but more of a false 9, workable. If anything, when done well, it is a superior style of attacking play with more movement, than when working off the 9 with his back to goal.
Either way it’s good to have the 2 contrasting options that Laca and Auba bring to the attack.
Superb Post, Rocket.!! 😁
I did not get the ‘pea soup’ reference until I looked it up — I liked it — and the pun was good, too.
But what was the provenance for;
– “those defenders could not double up on Auba while other men in red and white were dancing through their ranks like acrobats.”??
Solution 1: substitute “Ballerinas” for “acrobats” ??
Solution 2: substitute “the fluidly lithe tumbling” for “dancing”
Yes, I confess I am only teasing you — because I am jealous of your writing skills — and puns. 😳
I would love to see that attacking 4-1 line up you described (Martinelli-Smith Rowe-Odegaard-Saka behind Auba). But as you say, we don’t have the “Gilberto Silva” type player in our ranks who would allow it. Elneny is OK but no more than that.
Chambers would be an option (Fulham’s player of the season in that role the year before last) but Arteta does not seem to fancy him in any role, let alone that one.
You have caught me out in mixing my metaphors and it has fair taken the wind out of my rudder.
On the 2 goals Leeds scored. One can always find fault when a goal is scored from a corner but sometimes the stars just align for the player attacking the ball and where the ball is dropping is perfectly aligned with the timing and angle if the run if the player attacking the ball.
I think that happened with the first goal and Luiz was ser to get the headed clearance but everything just fell into place for the Leeds big fellow. There are times when you just have to say well done to the attack rather than look for faults in the defence, and for me their 1st goal fit into that category.
The 2nd one though had more positional faults that helped Leeds. Bellerin had a good game going forwards but we know has lapses in his game at the other end. He was rather too easily beaten by the player running in behind him on the angle in this instance and the goal was purely because of that player getting a free run into the box.
The eventual goalscorer has Luiz in front of him and Xhaka behind him so should be well covered but Luiz has to go across to cover the player that has got behind Bellerin and Xhaka is not quick enough to get in front of the goalscorer where Luiz had been a moment before.
I dont think Ashley Cole would have been so easily got behind and Belli needs to improve that part of his game if he is to become a world class full back.
I know many think it is all down to Willian but then he is at fault for everything in the fans eyes these days. It can’t be long before he is linked to the middle east problems and Covid 19 😁
I recognise that he is out of form but he is a known EPL player that has historically proven to be far better than he is currently showing. He should be bringing something positive to our squad. Personally I think he is playing with fear right now as he is probably aware of what is being said about him.
“I know many think it is all down to Willian but then he is at fault for everything in the fans eyes these days. It can’t be long before he is linked to the middle east problems and Covid 19 😁”
GoonerB, you missed out climate change – I’m sure he has a hand in that too.
I have to admit that I definitely have it in for him at the moment.
I was a little miffed by Willian appearing to be nothing more than a journeyman player when he joined us.
And I said so at the time.
But when he has come on, recently, as a sub, he is all energy and determination and chases the ball with great determination, only to realise no one else is backing him up.
Everyone has their opinion, of course — but I think he is trying — a goal, and he will regain his confidence — I am still hopeful that will happen.
And I agree with you, Rocky, — that GoonerB is responsible for global warming!!
Well who would have guessed that if we played one of the world’s best centre forwards as a — wait for it………….
An effing centre forward, he might start scoring goals again.
With regard to the stick that he has received recently, no one is saying that Aubamayang is crap but many people are saying that Martinelli plays the wide left role far better and therefore should be played there ahead of Aubamayang.
You are right RA, a goal would change everything for Willian.
Do you have a time frame for this?
Global warming is largely to do with camels RA. Those who tend to them cannot be blamed.
“Do you have a time frame for this?”
We might be talking geological ages…