Arsenal 2-1 Leeds United: Gunners take control of top four
Arsenal have taken a big step towards securing Champions League football next season as they take on an unruly Leeds United with all 10 visitors entering the Premier League relegation zone.
It was a fourth straight win for Mikel Arteta’s side and one that puts them firmly in the driver’s seat for a top-four finish ahead of the North London derby at Tottenham on Thursday.
But Leeds’ early capitulation was entirely their own, with goalkeeper Illan Meslier handing the hosts an opener before captain Luke Ayling was sent off for an unnecessary slot on Gabriel Martinelli.
Eddie Nketiah pounced on Meslier’s loose touch to open the scoring then completed a quick move to double the Gunners’ lead before Ayling’s reckless challenge left Leeds one man for over an hour.
The Elland Road side didn’t make an effort on goal until Diego Llorente slipped past Aaron Ramsdale in the 66th minute for a more edgy finish than anyone inside the Emirates Stadium did. would have expected.
Leeds applied late pressure, dispatching Meslier for set pieces, but the fourth-placed hosts never seriously threatened to lose their lead and now hold a four-point lead over Tottenham in fifth.
Leeds’ loss, coupled with Everton’s win at Leicester, means Jesse Marsch’s side slip into the bottom three with three games to play.
Gunners take charge of the top four race
With Spurs’ draw at Liverpool on Saturday, Arsenal knew that if they could successfully navigate this potential stumbling block, they would head into one of North London’s most crucial derbies in recent years on Thursday with a considerable lead over their rivals.
The hosts were given the perfect start when Meslier took a loose touch from Ayling’s pass and allowed Nketiah to pounce for the opener – a reward for his persistent pressing and recent performances at the top of Arsenal’s line .
The 22-year-old striker’s future is yet to be determined, with his contract expiring in the summer, but Nketiah has continued to do his part to ensure Arsenal play in Europe’s elite competition next season, and doubled the hosts’ lead with a well-taken second from Martinelli’s pass in the 10th minute.
It was the striker’s ninth goal this season, although five of them have come in the Carabao Cup, where he was used most often before earning a maiden Premier League start to the season last month and to establish his place in Arteta’s first XI.
Now the future free agent is spearheading an exciting young Arsenal attacking line alongside Bukayo Saka and Martinelli, who was on the end of an insane tackle from Ayling that resulted in the defender sent off after 27 minutes.
Arsenal’s fluid attack played with the visitors as Martin Odegaard’s free-kick found its way over the bar and Martinelli drove in a half-volley, only for the Gunners to be caught from Leeds’ opening corner.
It made things a little less comfortable than Arteta would have hoped, but his side got the vital win they needed ahead of a trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where victory will confirm Arsenal’s return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.
Leeds on the brink
Leeds appeared to have turned a corner under new boss Marsch, winning three from five games unbeaten before being humiliated 4-0 by league leaders Manchester City last time out.
That might have been enough to get them to safety had it not been for the recent raises from Burnley and Everton, but Marsch’s side now find themselves on the verge of returning to the Championship.
The American must have watched in disbelief as Meslier took a bad touch in his six-yard box to allow former Leeds loanee Nketiah to open the scoring after five minutes.
He will have been further stunned by captain Ayling, in his 500th career appearance, diving into Martinelli as the visitors led 2-0.
The defender was initially shown a yellow card but VAR recommended referee Chris Kavanagh look at the pitchside monitor and he upgraded it to red.
Raphinha nearly followed the Leeds skipper for his reaction and the visitors threatened to bust as home fans taunted them with chants of ‘you get off’.
Despite being shorthanded, Leeds regained some defensive solidity and scored their first chance at the other end when Junior Firpo kicked in a corner for Llorente to score.
Rodrigo had a chance to snatch a stoppage-time draw but couldn’t get enough on his head, leaving Leeds 18th, level on points with Burnley and one behind Everton but with a goal difference much worse.
- 17Cedric Soares
- 16While carrying
- 6GabrielleBooked at 16 mins
- 18TomiyasuBooked at 64 mins
- 7OfReplaced bygrandpato 68′minutes
- 30NketiahReplaced byLacazetteto 90+2′minutes
- 35MartinelliReplaced bySmith Roweto 78′minutes
- tenSmith Rowe
- 23Sambi Lokonga
- 65Oulad M’hand
- 2AylingBooked at 27 mins
- 43klichBooked at 34 minsReplaced bybeatto 45′minutes
- tenRaphinhaBooked at 27 minsReplaced byRodrigoto 60′minutes
- 30GelhardtReplaced byStruijkto 29′minutes
- 42Green wood
- Chris Kavanagh
- 60 108
Match ends, Arsenal 2, Leeds United 1.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 2, Leeds United 1.
Gabriel Magalhães (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Daniel James (Leeds United).
Attempt saved. Rodrigo (Leeds United) header from the middle of the box is blocked in the middle of the goal. Assisted by Junior Firpo with a header.
Foul by Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal).
Pascal Struijk (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Replacement, Arsenal. Alexandre Lacazette replaces Eddie Nketiah.
Attempt blocked. Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, Leeds United. Corner conceded by Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Foul by Martin Ødegaard (Arsenal).
Daniel James (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Arsenal. Cédric Soares tries a through ball, but Nicolas Pépé is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Martin Ødegaard (Arsenal) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked in the left top corner.
Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Pascal Struijk (Leeds United).
Replacement, Arsenal. Emile Smith Rowe replaces Gabriel Martinelli.
Corner, Arsenal. Corner conceded by Daniel James.
Failed attempt. Gabriel Magalhães (Arsenal) header from the right side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Cédric Soares on a cross from a corner.
Corner, Arsenal. Corner conceded by Robin Koch.
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