Arsenal were slow out of the gates, an interlull hangover in the opening stages — something I feel like we have said about this side after every international break — but as they have done many times before, they found their rhythm and exploded in the second half to win 4-1 over Leeds.
Manchester City marked the start of the run-in with a statement 4-1 win of their own and and demanded Arsenal rise to the occasion.
Arteta rolled out a slightly altered lineup that saw Bukayo Saka rested, Trossard on the right wing, Gabriel Jesus given his first start since his injury, and Rob Holding maintain his hold of the center back job.
Early stages were filled with anxiety as Arsenal’s ball movement lacked zip and their play lacked control. Leeds were jumping finding opportunities early and Ramsdale was forced into a few early saves.
Control comes from comfort and predictable situations. What were the awkward factors early on?
- No saka
- White not quite 100%
- White/Trossard link on the right wing wasn’t clicking
- Different front 3 trying to move fluidly wasn’t coming off
- Odegaard in different areas of the pitch trying to connect play and create with more than just Saka/RW
- Chemistry and connections were off
All of this came together and saw Arsenal’s usual patterns of play altered and instead of dictating with an iron fist where risks would be taken, Arsenal were turning the ball over in unusual places and creating opportunities for Leeds to get in behind.
The anxiety in the stadium was palpable as tensions were high. When Arsenal needed to reign things in and find a stroke of comfort, Gabriel Jesus stepped up on their behalf once more.
I’m not sure if it is possible to truly “craft” a penalty but Jesus came close. Shakes of the body produce defensive discomfort, Ayling is sent off his feet, and Jesus leaves him no choice but to desperately extend a foot into his knee. Soft? Sure, I guess Jesus wasn’t whacked down, but it’s definitely a penalty for me. He buries it. Welcome back, king.
Up 1-0, life returned to the stadium, everyone felt more at ease, and Arsenal were able to find their rhythm and dominate the second half.
Benny Blanco starts the half with a bang and gets on the end of a blistering ball from Martinelli in the 46th minute. It’s a tap in goal, but White does really well to get his foot up to a bouncing ball. Just like that, White has gone from no goals in the Premier League to two important ones in this title charge.
8 minutes later, Arsenal produced a goal as good as any their dynamic movement has produced this season. Ødegaard has shifted to the far left side and Gabriel Jesus comes deep to the right half space vacated by Ødegaard. He gets on the ball, turns and rifles a ball into Trossard who shifted from the right wing to a central area. From there, Leandro is just remarkable.
He drives onto his right foot, he has his back to goal, is boxed out, and shakes his defenders to create an inch of space. If his movement needed a rival for star of the goal, it would be the impeccably timed run of Gabriel Jesus to get on the end of Trossard’s ball. It’s dynamic movement at its finest and the whole goal is MAG-NI-FIQUE!
The game was sealed at 3-0, but Arsenal had an opportunity to close the gap in their Goal Differential race with Manchester City. Unfortunately, Arsenal were unable to do so. They concede a sloppy one and then claim a fourth through Granit Xhaka.
Xhaka has now scored three goals in Arsenal’s last three games and that feel’s like a big sign. He has such a knack for timing his runs and slipping in behind the defense, but if he’s getting on the scoresheet, it’s a sign this Arsenal team’s attack is humming.
It’s hard to argue against these results! There was a time that a contingency of people voiced a belief that Arteta couldn’t coach an attack. Well here we are with an Arsenal side at 70 goals and 9 more matches to play. It’s some real wow stuff and a ‘bang’ from this project.
Can Arsenal handle the pressure? They can. I think they have shown they can play with pressure. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a few tight margin draws away from slipping, or that Liverpool and Man City matches don’t threaten this fairy tale, but Arsenal continue to play TOP, TOP level football and produce emphatic results in the face of City breathing down their necks.
It took a few ticks before this Arsenal side returned to form, but seeing a side without Saka, without Saliba, with a changed front three, explode for four is a confidence boost. Nine games left to go, an 8 point lead at the top.
Arsenal Top Performers
Like clockwork! Jesus returns to the starting lineup and with it returns the impact he has on matches. He scores two goals in this one, his movement is dynamic, he spearheads the press so well. Arsenal played some good football when he was out with injury, but you can’t argue against the fact that he elevates the play all around. Just impressive stuff once more from Arsenal’s star frontman.
Another game, another set of serious contributions from Arsenal’s January signing.
Need you say more than that? He gets another assist versus Leeds, he created the most chances in the match, he took two shots of his own, and he did it all from an unfamiliar right wing. With Liverpool at Anfield up next, Arteta has a lot of consider when setting up his front three. Gabriel Jesus, Martinelli, Saka, and Trossard will all be healthy. A good problem to have, but a match he has to get the selection right in. Does Trossard make your starting attack?
It would be really easy to select a Martinelli, Xhaka, or Ødegaard for this third spot. They were fantastic, but I want to give a shout to Aaron Ramdsale who made multiple saves early in the match to keep the score level and give Arsenal time to regain their sea legs. It’s a shame he doesn’t get to add a clean sheet to his name. It’s a bigger shame that he’s beaten by a ricocheted shot after some soft defense across the top of the box. However, those early saves, some nice distribution, and a performance worthy of a clean sheet should be commended. I’m giving him my third spot.
Looking Around the League and Ahead
The dogfight continues from here. It’s really unfortunate that Liverpool couldn’t do Arsenal a favor, and even more unfortunate to see City win in such emphatic style. City won at the Etihad but Arsenal will have to prove they can do the same at Anfield.
Liverpool were City’s toughest non-Arsenal opponent remaining on the schedule which suggests Arsenal will have to be pretty clean with their final run in. 8 points ahead having played an extra game and with a match at the Etihad to play means that lead could shrink pretty fast. Assuming worse case scenarios, City win the game in hand and take all three points versus Arsenal at home, which leaves just two points of breathing space.
Outside of City, Arsenal have Liverpool, Brighton Chelsea in terms of tricky matches to navigate. You can’t predict how the season will go, or if City will falter against some of the relegation scrappers they have to face, but you’d image Arsenal will have to find ways to avoid settling for draws even against tougher opponents. It’s hard not to feel like wins are necessary until City drop more points.
City have the easier run in, but Arsenal remain in the drivers seat and in control of their own future… for now. Liverpool will present an opportunity to not only show the league how good this Arsenal team is, but demonstrate the level of maturity they possess. It takes a mature, controlled team to walk into Anfield, handle the atmosphere, and leave with a win — even in the off year Liverpool are having.