Triumph And Tragedy: Arsenal Eye Europe As Leeds Edge Closer To The Drop

The scoreline was a lot closer than the action at the Emirates
15:58, 08 May 2022

Arsenal and Leeds United both edged closer to wildly different destinies this afternoon at the Emirates. A 2-1 victory for the Gunners suggests a closer contest than the one we saw. The 14 places between them in the Premier League table is probably a more accurate indication of where these teams are. With this win, Arsenal strengthen their claim on fourth place, while Leeds find themselves in the bottom three and fearing relegation.

Arsenal could not have hoped for a better start, their opening goal coming gift-wrapped from Leeds. Ilan Meslier controlled a backpass with inexplicable malaise, and the ball was clipped off his toes and into the net by Eddie Nketiah. It was a baffling passage of play, as if the Leeds stopper was being operated by an abandoned Playstation controller.

By the tenth minute, Nketiah had struck again. The former Leeds loanee showed why Gunners fans are so keen for him to extend his contract beyond the end of the season with a fine finish. Gabriel Martinelli exhibited tremendous strength to power through a series of challenges down the left before squaring for the striker to slot home.

Nketiah nearly completed his hat-trick when Martinelli whipped a soaring ball into his path at the back post. Nketiah did well to reach it with a long stretch, but he could not direct it goalwards. Arsenal continued to pour on the pressure though. Cedric found Bukayo Saka from deep and the England star slotted in Martin Odegaard. The ex-Real Madrid man’s cross was cleared before Cedric’s speculative shot went awry.

Things went from bad to worse for Leeds when Luke Ayling was sent off for a thoughtless two-footed lunge on Martinelli. The initial award was a yellow card, but VAR was rightly consulted. Raphinha was also booked for his aggressive remonstrations to the referee. It was hard to see quite why he was appealing at all, never mind with such ferocity. It was a dreadful challenge from Ayling, and a red card was justified.

Arsenal had chances to run up a cricket score, but somehow Jesse Marsch’s men stayed in the game. Granit Xhaka played in Martinelli down the left flank before the impressive winger saw his shot saved. Meslier once again bailed Leeds out with a superb shape-shifting save at an Odegaard free kick. The French custodian might have started Leeds’ slide with his poor early concession, but he at least tried to make amends with some solid stops.

Martinelli’s exciting display continued at the onset of the second half. The 20-year-old cut in brilliantly and forced another fine save from Meslier, earning his side a corner. A few minutes later, he burst into the box and left the Leeds defence in his wake before sending his strike just over the bar. The Brazilian is a precocious and visceral talent full of creativity and bravery, and it will be fascinating to see how far he can go in the game.

Just when it looked like Leeds would spend the afternoon under Arsenal’s slowly descending thumb, the Yorkshire club pulled one back. Junior Firpo flicked a corner on at the near post and Diego Llorente was on hand to drive it home. It was Leeds’ first corner of the afternoon and they made it count in emphatic fashion. Would Arsenal retake control or was this the ray of light Marsch’s men needed to gain a foothold in the game?

Arsenal certainly seemed intent on restoring the distance. A clever Mohamed Elneny pass found Odegaard, who pulled his shot just wide of the mark. Mikel Arteta’s introduction of Nicolas Pepe offered renewed energy, while Leeds could not match the pace Arsenal played at.

If results go Arsenal’s way, their midweek North London Derby engagement could see them seal Champions League qualification. Leeds won’t be looking forward to their upcoming tie quite as much, as they stare down a game with European Champions Chelsea. It is hard to shake the feeling these two sides have had their fates sealed. Glory for one, despair for the other.

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