Arsenal may have extended their lead over rivals Tottenham to four points in the race to qualify for the Champions League, but the Gunners’ display in their 2-1 win against Leeds was a warning sign
It said everything about this bizarre game – and season – that Arsenal were hanging on at the final whistle.
They are making such hard work of the race for top four that you could feel the nerves jangling right through the Emirates from a game they should have won at a canter. Leeds were 2-0 down inside ten minutes, Eddie Nketiah scored twice and the visitors were reduced to ten men after Luke Ayling’s crazy, ill disciplined red card.
It was one of the worst, most farcical opening 30 minutes from a Premier League team you will ever see. Leeds looked to be on course for a real thrashing. But Arsenal took their foot off the gas, wasted chances, allowed Leeds to stage the most unlikely comeback and the visitors so nearly grabbed something from a game they could have easily lost by five or six nil.
Leeds boss Jesse Marsch was urging his players forward in the dying minutes, they showed remarkable spirit bearing in mind how poor they had been in the first half and yet now find themselves in the drop zone. Quite how Arsenal did not kill off the game is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, Leeds face a desperate fight for survival.
They are level on points with Burnley with a far worse goal difference – and it is easy to see why. Marsch has given them a lift after taking over from Marcelo Bielsa, but has not been able to solve their defensive issues and now spirit and the incredible support from the Leeds fans is their best hope of survival. If they can put the two together they can still get out.
Arsenal now go into Thursday’s North London derby in pole position for fourth place and they know a win will secure Champions League football next season. But judging by their nerves and this rollercoaster season, it is hard to imagine the outcome will be anything remotely as straightforward.
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In fairness, Arsenal started at such a fast pace, they blew Leeds away. Ayling played the ball back to Illan Meslier, the Leeds keeper took a heavy touch and Nketiah pounced with a tackle which pushed the ball over the line. It was a nightmare start for Leeds.
Gabriel Martinelli was creating havoc down the left wing, he cut the ball back for Nketiah and the striker Arsenal are trying to persuade to stay swept the ball home. It got much worse for Leeds after 25 minutes. Ayling went in two-footed on Martinelli, referee Chris Kavanagh showed a yellow card but VAR got him to check his screen and it was correctly upgraded to red.
Ayling is such a good pro but he really let himself and the club down. Now he will be banned for the rest of the season. Arsenal should have been out of sight by half time but a combination of poor finishing and heroic clearances – including an amazing effort Diego Llorente to somehow hook Martin Odegaard’s shot off the line – kept the score down.
The same happened after half time. Arsenal eased up, they were saving themselves for Thursday and Martinelli missed big chances. Then the unthinkable happened. From nowhere, the ten men of Leeds scored.
A corner was flicked on, Junior Firpo flicked on and Llorente scored at the back post. Now Arsenal were rattled. Odegaard missed a chance, Nicolas Pepe inexplicably failed to shoot (albeit from the half way line) at an empty net when Meslier went up for last minute corner.
Leeds were chasing an unlikely equaliser. Firpo headed on and substitute Rodrigo put a half chance straight at Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale in the 93rd minute. You could feel the relief in the stadium at the final whistle. Quite how it came to that is anyone’s guess. But Leeds’ fight for survival starts now.