Arsenal get job done against Leeds with lightning start

Nervous end to match that could have been so simple

Sunday, 8th May — By Richard Osley at Emirates Stadium

Arsenal V Watford Emirates IMG_1448

FA Premier League
ARSENAL 2 (Nketiah 5, 10)
LEEDS UNITED 1 (Llorente 66) Ayling sent off 29

SO it’s simple: if Arsenal beat old rivals Spurs on Thursday and they’re in the Champions League. Alternatively, they can lose to Spurs and beat both Newcastle and Everton and clinch that fourth place spot. Simple, simple, simple…

As if, and certainly not judging by the way Arsenal made what should have been a… simple… task in the second half against Leeds this afternoon unnecessarily nervous. Two-up after a lightning quick start and then benefiting from an extra man after Luke Ayling was sent off for the visitors, the home crowd found itself longing for the final whistle.

One ball bouncing the wrong way could have spelt disaster as the relegation threatened team in dark blue tried to split the points.

Arsenal did all their scoring in the first ten minutes through Eddie Nketiah’s brace. The first came in comical fashion, although Leeds keeper Illan Meslier will struggle to see the funny side. His attempt to be clever with the ball at his feet in front of his own goal ended in disaster  as Nketiah sprinted in to poke it away from his toes and into the goal.

It was the nerve settler that Arsenal needed and it was cruise control when Nketiah followed up by sweeping the ball in from Gabriel Martinelli’s centred pass.

He’s had his critics and his future is not clear but Nketiah has risen to the challenge at a club which has left itself alarmingly short of firepower since the departure of  perennial top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

More should have followed: Bukayo Saka hit a shot straight at Meslier after being released by Martin Odegaard’s trickery, while Odegaard himself had a whizzing free kick cleared off the line.

And the challenge should have got easier rather than harder when Luke Ayling was dismissed after half an hour of play. His frustrated two footed lunge at Martinelli was initially marked with a booking until the VAR screen revealed just how ugly his intervention had been.

The Gunners were too casual in the second period, however, and there were only half chances to secure a killer third. This sloppiness was then exposed when Leeds nicked a goal back from a corner: Llorente sliding in to score from a well-rehearsed flick-on routine.

At 2-1, suddenly the enormity of not winning from a position of such strength seemed to dawn on the fans and then the players, who were occasionally jittery with the ball. Leeds had chances to boot the ball into the danger areas. They were probably never really that dangerous but with so much at stake each moment had the supporters gasping.

Arsenal, right now, are not the team to win by four or five goal margins, Arteta is happy to win by one each week. It’s a strategy which makes for a lot of tension.

And with no room for error, it looks like it will go down to the last kick.

ARSENAL Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Cedric, Gabriel, Holding, Odegaard, Elneny, Xhaka, Saka (Pepe 68), Martinelli (Smith Rowe 78), Nketiah (Lacazette 90+2)
SUBS NOT USED Leno, Lokonga, M’hand, Patino, Swanson, Tavares

LEEDS UNITED Meslier, Ayling, Firpo, Koch, Llorente, Klich (Bate 46), Phillips, Harrison, James, Raphina (Rodrigo 60), Gerhardt (Struijk 29)
SUBS NOT USED Cresswell, Fuhr Hjelde, Gray, Greenwood, Klaesson, Shackleton

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