Arsenal 1-0 Leeds: A Game of Two Halves
Arsenal (Nelson 55′) 1-0 Leeds.
Arsenal hosted Leeds United yesterday evening to earn the right to qualify for the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The Gunners knew their work was cut out for them but what the fans witnessed in the first 45 minutes was an aberration to say the least. Emiliano Martinez had to keep his concentration levels high and stay on his wits as he made save after save in the first half with the visitors running the home side ragged.
Leeds began like a house on fire with Kalvin Philips whipping the ball into the Arsenal danger area but Patrick Bamford’s flick sent the ball wide. Just like times past, Arsenal can be the makers of their own destruction by hitting that famous self-destruct button. Rob Holding wanted to feed the ball to Granit Xhaka but he gave possession away to Matheusz Kilch that wasted no time in sending Bamford clean on goal, but Holding showed good recovery to anticipate the shot, deflecting it for a corner kick.
Arsenal’s first attempt on goal was a weak one, with Nicolas Pepe swinging his left boot with the aim of sending a curling effort to the top corner, but debutant goalie, Illan Meslier, was on hand to make a comfortable save. Leeds continued to dominate the game and Martinez was the hero yet again when Jack Harrison executed a neat one-two that left the defense bamboozled before blasting a goal-bound effort that was parried to safety by Arsenal’s shot stopper.
The intense pressure from the visitors continued and this time the Gunners had their cross bar to thank when Harrison rifled in another shot that cannoned off the wood work with Martinez beaten. Leeds kept on piling the pressure with Philips free kick taking a deflection off Ben White’s head, but Martinez had to make a quick reaction save to keep the tie goalless. With 30 minutes on the clock, Leeds had 65% possession at the home of the Gunners.
Arsenal’s first meaningful attempt arrived on the 31st minute when David Luiz evaded his marker and headed Mesut Ozil’s corner wide off the mark. Martinez then proceeded to make what I would regard as the save of the match when Luke Ayling floated a cross from the right that saw Ezgdan Alioski beat Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the air but Martinez found a way to claw the ball from going into the back of the net. It was an incredible save.
Anthony Taylor’s whistle was like a relief to everyone connected with Arsenal as the barrage of attack from Leeds became a major concern. According to the official website, Mikel Arteta shouted at the players at half time to inspire his lads to put up a better outing and boy, it worked!
The Gunners put up an inspired outing in the second 45 minutes, starting with Alexandre Lacazette cliping a free kick that hit the top of the bar before going behind for a goal kick. Lacazette then received a neat pass from Ozil and fired a low effort that saved by Meisler. Matteo Guendouzi, who turned out to be a peripheral figure throughout the game, fashioned a chance for himself at the edge of the area and side-footed a low effort that missed by a lick of paint.
Arsenal finally got the reward for their intensified attacking pressure when Pepe and Lacazette connected well on the right then his attempted cross deflected off Philips to Reiss Nelson’s path that managed to connect with the ball before Meisler could get his hands on it. It was a scrappy as you would ever see but in all honesty, the fans did not care as the Gunners were one up to the good.
The Gunners had a potential claim for a penalty when Gaetano Berardi allegedly fouled Lacazette in the box but Arsenal’s appeals to the ref fell on deaf ears. Arteta made his first substitution by summoning the recently fit Gabriel Martinelli for the goal scorer, Nelson.
The young Brazilian was eager to make up for lost time and turned out to be a constant nuisance to the opposition, with some slick touches showing off his technique. After receiving the ball from Pepe, Martinelli created some space for him and blasted the ball goalwards but White was on hand to make a superb block. The Brazilian had another go at the Leeds defense and was successful with a lovely shot to the far post but Meisler made a good save to deny the Brazilian the goal that would have put the game beyond doubt.
Late on VAR took center stage checking a potential red card for violent conduct when Barry Douglas caught Sokratis on the face but the Leeds defender did not receive a red card. At the sound of the final whistle, Arteta looked like a relieved man for turning around the contest.
With the draws already made, the Gunners will face Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium in the fourth round of the competition.
All focus moves to the crucial fixture against Crystal Palace this weekend.
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