Never mind Leeds’ late flurry; Aubameyang and Arteta needed this

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Feb 14, 2021, 22:49

Leeds have a way this season of making everything about them. That’s not really a criticism, more an observation of the way their style of play catches the eye.

Look at that. The fact we’ve just made the intro to this piece about a huge and significant Arsenal win and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s first Premier League hat-trick about them sort of fuels that idea, to be fair, but it’s hard to get away from it. There’s a sort of organised chaos to Leeds that makes them feel like the centre of the universe. That with Leeds things just sort of happen – for good and ill – to the opposition, whether that’s easing into a 4-0 lead just after half-time or finding yourself holding on ever so slightly nervously at 4-2 half-an-hour later.

It’s largely nonsense, of course, and for the undeniable contribution Leeds, as ever, made to their own downfall here it would be entirely wrong to overlook just how good Arsenal were for the first hour or so. Aubameyang in front of Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka is, frankly, the absolute sex and even if most teams are less generous than Leeds it is still an attacking quartet that should make a further mockery of Arsenal’s previously miserable goalscoring stats over the last third of the season. That over a fifth of all goals scored in the Premier League at the Emirates this season came this afternoon is definitely quite Leeds United, but it’s not entirely Leeds United.

There were mistakes for all three of the first-half goals, from Illan Meslier for all three, from Luke Ayling for the first, from half-a-dozen for the third. But there was also a wonderfully clever finish from Aubameyang for the first goal, persistence, perseverance and skill from Saka for the next two as well as a perfect penalty from Aubameyang and an eye-of-the-needle Dani Ceballos pass and cute strike from Hector Bellerin for the third.

However it came, though, how Arsenal and Mikel Arteta needed this. A front four full of verve and menace, all playing well, all at the same time, all against a defence that has often been generous even before it was reshuffled extensively for this one. For once in this tricky season, the cards fell in Arsenal’s favour on a day when they were playing well enough to take full advantage. After the manner of defeat in the last couple of games, Arteta will feel with some justification that this was the least his side deserved.

When Aubameyang duly completed a hat-trick that had looked a distinct possibility from the moment the teamsheets were revealed with a close-range header from what was either a genius cross or woeful shot from Smith-Rowe, things looked as rosy for Arsenal as they have since the heady days of two wins from two at the start of the season.

While drawing long-term conclusions from things that happen against chaos factory Leeds is tricky – even Spurs managed to accidentally give them a comprehensive shoeing recently – this was still hugely encouraging for Arsenal. Aubameyang right amongst it, plenty of lovely creative stuff going on behind and Saka continuing to be a truly absurd 19-year-old.

Of course, Leeds are Leeds so they then scored two goals to make the final score a deeply flattering 4-2 in a game where, eye-catching chaotic nonsense notwithstanding, they were not the story. This was Aubameyang’s day, this was Arteta’s day. This was a tantalising glimpse of an Arsenal side that could once again be a functioning attacking force and compete at the top of the table instead of beating the neutral’s favourites to leapfrog them in mid-table.

It would be quite wrong to try and make Leeds’ half-comeback any more than an addendum to the main story of the day. Their never-say-die spirit and great commitment to attacking football that makes them able to attempt these sorts of comebacks but also creates the need for these sorts of comebacks is good fun but this was not about them. So we definitely shouldn’t make the last bit of this piece about them like we did with the intro.

Ah, for f***’s sake.

Dave Tickner

 


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