Arsenal restored their eight-point lead at the Premier League summit with an ultimately commanding 4-1 victory at home to Leeds United on Saturday afternoon.
The Gunners will have watched Manchester City close the gap with a second-half dismantling of Liverpool earlier in the day – the match was shown on the Emirates’ big screens – and began their game in a fog of hesitancy. Although, their visitors warrant some credit for that.
Javi Gracia had lost all three of his previous meetings with Arsenal by an aggregate score of 0-6 but arrived in north London with a plan to frustrate. Jack Harrison on the left and Rasmus Kristensen, a right-back shunted into midfield, were tasked with plugging the gaps between Leeds’ full-backs and centre-backs, the half-spaces from which Arsenal have wreaked so much havoc this season.
With Arsenal’s regular avenues to goal protected by a military blockade of neon camouflage kits, the hosts had to rely upon a returning weapon of their own. On his first Premier League start since the World Cup, Gabriel Jesus roamed around in constant search of space. The Brazilian nodded a header over the bar after ten minutes before wriggling into the box with the ball at his blurring feet.
Chopping away from Kristensen, Jesus sent Luke Ayling to the turf but soon joined him on the grass when the Leeds skipper carelessly left his studs dangling. Jesus dusted himself off and cooly slotted the spot kick he had worked so hard to win down the middle of the goal, finding the net for the first time since the opening day of October.
Leeds had enjoyed the better of the opening half-hour but their stubborn resolve melted in the wake of Arsenal’s opener. Jesus soon launched a counter-attack which culminated with Gabriel Martinelli watching his 40-yard lob hurriedly scrambled off the line by Ayling. Within two minutes of the restart, Leeds’ beleaguered captain couldn’t stop Martinelli’s cross from bouncing along the box for Ben White to crash in at the back post.
The tight stitching in Leeds’ rearguard was well and truly frayed thereafter. Jesus, who had spotted whispers of room throughout, revelled in the newfound patches of green grass. Arsenal’s number nine picked out Leandro Trossard in the box, surging beyond a trailing pack of disheartened visiting players to receive a return pass and stuff it past Illan Meslier after 55 minutes.
Just as the final 15 minutes threatened to meander towards a tame conclusion, Kristensen exploited his advanced positioning with a thumped shot from the D. Aaron Ramsdale was unsighted by a wicked deflection from Oleksandr Zinchenko and gave up yet another clean sheet; Arsenal have conceded in seven of their last eight home games.
Granit Xhaka restored Arsenal’s three-goal advantage within ten minutes, bursting into a scantily-clad box and guiding Martin Odegaard’s feathered cross into the corner. A matter of hours after City underlined their title credentials against Liverpool, Arsenal responded with a 4-1 win of their own, the club’s seventh consecutive top-flight victory – the longest run of any team at any point of the season.
GK: Aaron Ramsdale – 4/10 – Alert right from the opening whistle, making a save inside the first ten seconds but very shaky with the ball at his feet.
RB: Ben White – 7/10 – No punches were pulled against his former club with a spiky, stud-filled showing.
CB: Rob Holding – 6/10 – Rarely ventured away from a safe pass but managed to clear most of the danger that fell his way.
CB: Gabriel – 7/10 – Commanding on and off the ball.
LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko – 5/10 – Struggled when lured into a one-on-one out wide but limited those scenarios as he spent much of his time in midfield.
CM: Martin Odegaard – 6/10 – Grew into the game as space opened up between the lines.
CM: Thomas Partey – 7/10 – Exerted a sense of reassuring serenity in possession.
CM: Granit Xhaka – 7/10 – Readjusted well when faced with the initial obdurate shape but continued to crash the box when space opened up.
RW: Leandro Trossard – 8/10 – Starting on his unfavoured right flank, Trossard was brilliantly disciplined when counter-pressing and set up Jesus’ second.
ST: Gabriel Jesus – 9/10 – Breezing around the final third, Jesus was back to his untameable best.
LW: Gabriel Martinelli – 8/10 – The Brazilian’s unwavering directness helped pierce Leeds’ stubborn resolve.
Bukayo Saka (60′ for Jesus) – 5/10
Jorginho (60′ for Partey) – 5/10
Emile Smith Rowe (85′ for Odegaard) – N/A
Fabio Vieira (86′ for Xhaka) – N/A
Kieran Tierney (86′ for Zinchenko) – N/a
Mikel Arteta – 7/10 – Watched on as his players unpicked the problem in front of them with admirable cunning and creativity.
GK: Illan Meslier – 5/10 – Sharp off his line but not always so decisive.
RB: Luke Ayling – 2/10 – The former Arsenal academy graduate played as though he was still harbouring north London leanings.
CB: Robin Koch – 4/10 – Rash when robbed of the extra security provided by so many extra players flooding into Leeds’ backline.
CB: Pascal Struijk – 6/10 – Safe and sturdy on the left of Leeds’ rearguard.
LB: Junior Firpo – 5/10 – Curbed his natural attacking instincts as Leeds were reluctant to commit more than the front three forward.
CM: Rasmus Kristensen – 6/10 – Despite nominally starting further forward, Kristensen’s defensive discipline was integral to tracking Xhaka’s roaming.
CM: Marc Roca – 5/10 – Sweeping up at the base of midfield, Roca sometimes slipped in the backline himself as well.
CM: Jack Harrison – 6/10 – Dropping as deep – and sometimes deeper – than Leeds’ left-back Firpo.
RW: Luis Sinisterra – 5/10 – Skirting around the fringes of the contest.
ST: Brenden Aaronson – 4/10 – A striker in name only, the flitting attacking midfielder drifted in and mainly out of the contest.
LW: Crysencio Summerville – 7/10 – A wriggling menace as Leeds swept forward in transition.
Weston McKennie (66′ for Aaronson) – 5/10
Rodrigo (66′ for Sinisterra) – 5/10
Liam Cooper (74′ for Koch) – N/A
Georginio Rutter (74′ for Summerville) – N/A
Patrick Bamford (85′ for Harrison) – N/A
Javi Gracia – 5/10 – Deployed his side in a compact shape that also threatened in transition until the opening goal.