Thursday, February 29, 2024

Arsenal 4-1 Leeds: Jesus finds his goalscoring boots again

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Before our game had even kicked off, Man City had put the pressure on with a 4-1 win over Liverpool at home. ‘Here we are’, was the message. ‘Look at this. What can you do today?’

Arsenal’s response was emphatic in the end. 4-1. ‘How about that? That’s what we can do.’

To be fair though, it wasn’t plain sailing in the first half. Illness in the camp which affected some players meant Bukayo Saka was on the bench, failing to start a Premier League game for the first time this season. Ben White was affected, as were unnamed others. But Gabriel Jesus got his start up front, with Leandro Trossard on the right in place of Saka.

Leeds saw Bournemouth get some quick joy from kick-off a few weeks ago and tried their luck, this time Aaron Ramsdale was equal to it. We went up the other end and threatened straight away, but despite getting on top the Arsenal keeper was the busier man. Jesus should have done better with an excellent Granit Xhaka cross but headed over. We struggled to find our fluency, maybe because of some players being under the weather, but as good as Trossard is, he doesn’t have the same kind of connection with White that Saka does on the right.

After half an hour, Ramsdale saved again. We broke straight away, the move came to nothing but the ball came back into their box. Jesus skipped away from one tackle when he could easily have gone down, but when Luke Ayling kicked him on the knee, he didn’t need a third invitation. Penalty.

It looked like Martin Odegaard was going to take it, but without a goal since the North London derby on October 1st, he handed the ball to the number 9. His record from the spot isn’t brilliant. In his career, even with yesterday’s successful attempt, he has missed more than he has scored, but this time made no mistake. He put it down the middle as the keeper moved out of the way. 1-0.

Leeds were scrappy, Martinelli and Odegaard feeling the impact of heavy challenges before the break, but after half-time we turned the screw and won the game in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. First Martinelli provided a fantastic cross for Ben White to score his second goal in an Arsenal shirt, the timing of his arrival at the back post perfect, and the finish going in – rather pleasingly – off the underside of the crossbar.

The third goal was the pick of the bunch. Trossard picked up a good pass from Jesus in the box, twisted and turned, and delivered the perfect cutback for the Brazilian to race onto and poke home to make it 3-0. The penalty was valuable in terms of getting back on the scoresheet, but a goal of this quality from open play will be even more so as he continues his return from that long injury absence. It was everything you’d want from his first Premier League start since the knee surgery, an influential performance and two goals to his name. Credit too Trossard whose assists since he arrived have been so valuable.

We hadn’t hit the hour mark, but three goals up was sufficient for Arteta to make protective changes. Jesus and Thomas Partey came off, replaced by Saka and Jorginho. Ramsdale made another good save, and for the most part we controlled the game, making as many of the 300,000 passes as we possibly could. Then Leeds scored. I think it’s a situation we could have defended better, especially as their man drove towards our box, but there was an element of luck to the finish as it deflected off Oleksandr Zinchenko and into the net.

Shortly after, I think we were denied an obvious penalty when Roca just whacked Trossard in the box with the ball nowhere near him. I know there’s a sliding scale when it comes to this kind of thing, but if that’s not the definition of violent conduct I don’t know what is. The ref didn’t see it, VAR ignored it, but I thought it looked pretty clear cut.

The slight concern you’d have about the fact we’re conceding goals is easier to compartmentalise when you score lots, so to get a fourth was very pleasing. Odegaard’s delivery into the box was excellent, Xhaka’s run and header the kind of movement and finish you’d see from a seasoned centre-forward. It’s the midfielder’s 7th goal of the season in all competitions, considering his scoring record up to this season, it’s a great contribution.

Arteta made three changes, and there was time at the end for Ben White to engage in some hilarious mischief with the Leeds keeper. I guess when you’re 4-1 up you can do that without worrying too much. He appeared on BBC 5 Live afterwards, and was asked if the manager had allowed the players to watch the Man City/Liverpool game before ours. His response, “I don’t watch football, so … er …”.

Haha. I love him. Not least because he did this on a day when he wasn’t feeling 100%, and as the manager says, he’s a fighter. We can have a good laugh at this stuff, but let’s not ignore the quality of the 90 minutes he played and the fact he chipped in with a goal.

Afterwards, Arteta played down the Man City talk, saying:

What we can control is what we can do. We’ve been discussing that for the last few days.  After the international break we had a lot of tricky situations to manage with a few players and it’s always a question mark with how the team is going to react after that. I think they were exceptional, they were really at it, everyone wanted to be involved and we won the game in a convincing way, which is good and the only thing that we can control.

I think it’s fair to say that the first half felt typically post-Interlull, which can happen. Your rhythm and momentum is broken and you have to work hard to find it again. There are things we can definitely do better, and I’m sure as we prepare for the next game, they will be the focus of the manager’s attention during training this week.

From our perspective though, it’s a second successive 4-1 win, and our seventh win in a row in the Premier League. In six of those seven games, we’ve scored three goals or more. When we talked about Man City being the kind of side that is capable of going on a run of games where they just win all the time, we’re kinda on one of those ourselves now. There’s a much bigger test next week against a Liverpool side who will have been chafed by that defeat yesterday and determined to respond, but it is what it is. This is the challenge we’re facing between now and May, nobody said it was going to be easy.

What I would say is that this run of games post-Man City always looked potentially very important on paper before we started to look at facing some of the more powerful Premier League outfits. To have come through it with 21 points from 21 is superb, and it gives us the platform we need as the number of games remaining gets smaller and smaller. 9 left.

The good thing is we have a full week to prepare too. No distractions, just focus on next weekend, and a trip to Anfield having restored our 8 point gap at the top of the table. Not a bad place to be.

Right, that’s your lot this morning. Have a great Sunday, back tomorrow with more and an Arsecast Extra. Until then.

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