LONDON … Arsenal fans may be beginning to expect the unexpected again. One of the ongoing criticisms of manager Mikel Arteta is the Gunners’ inflexibility in attacking positions, often failing to convert ball possession into an obvious goal chance. While Leeds United were partly responsible for the win at the Emirates Stadium, Sunday’s 4-2 victory showed a more enticing sight of Arteta’s goals, but not in the way many expected.
– Report: Auba’s hat-trick leads Arsenal to a big win.
The Leeds-Arsenal match in the Europa League is over.
When Martin Odegaard came to the club on loan from Real Madrid, he seemed to be rotated with Emile Smith Rowe, who had tried his luck in the first team with aplomb, but did not have much creative charge to carry in his first season. Nevertheless, Arteta opted to give Odegaard his first start alongside Smith Rowe, a first in a three-man attacking line in midfield with Bucayo Saka on the right behind center striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
What followed was one of Arsenal’s most dynamic attacking performances of the season, with Aubameyang clearly showing the creativity of his teammates. “I thought [the creativity in the final third] was much better,” Arteta said. “We were much more efficient and serene. We didn’t rush when we needed to. We had actions, we ran from behind, people were in the penalty area and went into the penalty area. Our decision-making was much better and more efficient, we took shots and many of them were in line with the goals”. That was the difference”.
Odegaard and Smith Rowe alternated in impressive fashion, Saka threatened Leeds with a combination of rhythm and composure in the latter part of the game, and Aubameyang made his first hat-trick in his Premier League career.
Only West Brom (55) have conceded more goals this season than Leeds (42), and the price they are willing to pay for their attacking efforts is the openness that top teams can exploit. The Gunners have not always been able to exploit such opportunities, but here they did in a match that was certainly something of a catharsis after disappointing defeats against Wolves and Aston Villa.
These matches were controversial due to VAR (David Luiz’s red card at Molineux, which the club tried unsuccessfully to appeal against before its own advantage was denied for a foul on Bukayo Saca, and later a hefty penalty at Villa Park). On Sunday, he was unlucky for the third time. Aubameyang had given Arsenal the lead with a low shot in the 13th minute, when Saka escaped in front of goal and was brought down after contact with Leeds captain Liam Cooper. Referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot, but reviewed the decision on the field monitor, concluding that Cooper did not make enough contact with Saka to bring him down.
Arteta was furious on the touchline, but Saka continued to nonchalantly pressure goalkeeper Ilian Meslier, who made the mistake of flying at the ball, resulting in an offside penalty. Aubameyang converted and Arsenal gained control it would never relinquish. Hector Bellerin struck the third ball into the box after excellent work by Saki and Dani Ceballos. It was the first championship game of the season in which the Gunners scored three goals in the first half.
Two minutes after the resumption, Smith Rowe put Aubameyang ahead for the third time with a delightful ball, before Leeds scored twice through Pascal Struyk and substitute Helder Costa to add strength to the Gunners’ win. The closing stages went a little more awkwardly than Arsenal would have liked, but the tie was never recovered.
Error. Film not specified.Aubameyang was sensational and Arteta’s setup was Arsenal’s best in Sunday’s win over Leeds. James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images
Aubameyang took the match point and vowed in his program notes to “give back all the love” he showed during a difficult period when he missed matches while caring for his ailing mother. Here he did the same: He scored his 200th goal in the European fifth division and scored 36 goals for Arsenal in the Premier League. Only Jamie Vardy (46), Mohamed Salah (42) and Sadio Mane (37) have scored more goals since Aubameyang’s debut in February 2018.
“It was a difficult time for me, but now it’s time to smile again, win games and score goals, that’s all,” Aubameyang said. “Everyone at the club has given me, my mother and my family a lot of love, so I am very, very happy and very proud to be part of this family. I’m very happy today, the victory and the goals are for them.
Arteta said of his center striker, “He had a great performance, not only in terms of marking, but also in the way he worked without the ball.
Aubameyang has strengthened the team, especially Saka who continues to excel. It was Gabriel Martinelli who set the tone for his return to the team, but today Saka fills that role with surprising consistency. His form is so good that the likes of Willian and Nicolas Pepe, who set the club record, must respond to earn a place in the team.
The challenge for Arsenal, as in previous years, is to play the leading opposition with equal ingenuity. Arsenal’s next four games are the Europa League return match against Benfica, and tough duels with Premier League leaders Manchester City and Leicester City. These rivals will not be as accommodating as Leeds, but Arsenal now have a shining example of their expressionism to build on.