Saturday, June 15, 2024

Arsenal 2-1 Leeds: Straightforward but terrifying

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Yesterday’s blog title read: Just win. So fair play Arsenal. You won. Job done. On that basis, I can’t complain. It would indeed be churlish of me to find fault with three points that put us on the brink of qualification for the Champions League – a win at White Hart Lane on Thursday night would seal the deal. By any measure that is a very decent place to be.


I don’t know how or why we do it to ourselves, but it’s a rare occurrence in itself to score two goals in the opening 10 minutes and see the opposition reduced to 10 men before the half hour mark; and even more rare to then spend a good portion of the second half bricking it. I don’t think there’s another club in the world that would do that to itself and its fans.

In terms of the game, it was comfortable but horrific. Straightforward but terrifying. Plain sailing but ghastly. Every missed chance in the second half to score the third goal – which would have made it all feel a lot better – flashed before my eyes when Leeds had the ball. When Alexandre Lacazette came on and gave away a free kick on halfway which almost ended with a Leeds chance in the dying seconds, I wanted to puke. I felt my heart jump in my chest. I can’t say for sure if it’s back in the same place. I hope so.

And look, if this sounds like I’m complaining, that’s because I’m complaining – but from a good place. A happy place. I know this club very well having supported it most of my life. If there’s an easy way to do something and a hard way to do something, we’ll take the difficult path. On your left, sunshine and flowers and a field full of free-range puppies. On your right, darkness and poison brambles and ogres and stuff. Arsenal are going right. Every. Single. Time.

But what we had to do first and foremost was win the game, and that’s exactly what we did. In the history books, the level of fan discomfort won’t be remembered, only that we scored 2 of our 450 attempts on goal and Leeds scored 1 from their minus number of attempts and the three points went our way.

Credit this morning to Eddie Nketiah whose opener was the kind of goal we only score with him (or another mobile striker) in the team. He chased down the Leeds keeper, pounced on a moment of hesitation/mis-control, and tackled the ball into the back of the net. He was involved well in the build-up to the second too, before Gabriel Martinelli skinned the defender and produced the cut-back for Eddie to sweep home his second after good movement in the box.

You couldn’t really ask for a better start to a game, and when Leeds were reduced to 10 men it felt like more goals would come and we’d be easy winners. On the sending off, I genuinely think it’s absurd that Luke Ayling was issued with a yellow in the first place. Martinelli is very lucky he was getting his feet off the ground because otherwise he could have suffered a very serious injury. Still, I have bemoaned VAR more than once, so on this occasion it showed its merit when the referee was advised to take another look and he then produced the red card he should have shown in the first place.

Mikel Arteta has often spoken about efficiency in attack, and this is one of those games where a bit more of that would have been very welcome. After the sending off we had 11 shots, 6 on target, and there were a couple of opportunities where we really should have extended the lead. Then, Leeds got a corner and having been defensively excellent from set-pieces all season, we went to sleep to allow them a goal. 2-1, and the nerves were obvious.

It’s not even that Leeds threatened, it’s just the knowledge that one moment, one slip, one corner could cost you. I think we lost our composure a little bit, and I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between the team feeling a bit spooked and the amount of crosses Cedric slings in. It’s like a switch goes off in his head.

“Hmm, the lads are a bit nervy. Should I keep the ball and work it closer to the penalty box or CROSS IT? I WILL CROSS IT.”

Some of the deliveries weren’t bad to be fair, but I guess that’s partly down to the sheer volume and the law of averages. Nicolas Pepe got a rare outing when he replaced Bukayo Saka, but if there’s a more toothpaste and orange juice combination than him and Cedric I have yet to see it. It’s as if they actively find a way to extenuate each others weaknesses, and our right flank became basically useless in both directions.

There was inevitable late tension when Leeds got a corner and sent the keeper up, but we fluffed the chance to score on the breakaway when there was basically nobody in their half, and I already mentioned the heart-jumper free kick right at the end.

The final whistle went. My WhatsApp started buzzing with Arsenal pals sending stuff along the lines of ‘Can’t take it any more’, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘I need therapy’ and other more expletive heavy messages. Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

I think for a lot of phases we did well, but we needed to score the third goal and we had the chances to do so and then the accident happened when the first time that they were through at a set-piece we conceded a goal and it’s game on and some nerves have to handled.

This is football, if you look at what happened a few days ago in Madrid, there are things that nobody can explain but this is the beauty of this match, and suffering unfortunately for all of us, especially for the managers, it’s part of it.

Yes, but please, I must insist, less suffering. Just a bit less. All I’m asking is for a six goal at half-time on Thursday, and then I might permit myself to relax just a tiny bit.

In seriousness though, the reason there was so much tension is because of how important these three points were. There’s so much riding on every game and that is a good thing. That’s what makes us feel. If this was a mid-table game with nothing riding on it, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fear. It’s a consequence of this season being better than we expected with the potential prize being greater than most people had hoped when we began last August.

I also think there were good things we shouldn’t lose sight of. Eddie’s goals, a blistering display from Gabriel Martinelli and the performance of Takehiro Tomiyasu at left back. Unconventional, yes, but I  love him as a pure defender, as a footballer he’s just so intelligent in terms of his positioning and awareness, and technically he is very, very good.

It’s the kind of win that reminds you we need more goalscorers in the team, something we know the transfer market in the summer will be focused on, but let’s break it down to brass tacks: if we win the derby on Thursday we’ll be in the Champions League next season. That is both exciting and petrifying, but mostly it is a very, very good thing, and taking a four point lead into that game is also a nice thing to have.

I can’t really begin to start thinking about that game yet. I need to decompress a bit from yesterday, but I said ‘Just win’ and they won so let’s pack this one away and get focused on the next one.

Right, that’s it for this morning. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra as always a bit later on. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out before lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.

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