Arsenal’s nervous sacking from Leeds shows why Tottenham showdown will be real test – John Cross
Arsenal may have extended their lead over rivals Tottenham to four points in the race to qualify for the Champions League, but the Gunners’ performance in the 2-1 win against Leeds was a red flag
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It said everything about that bizarre game – and this season – that Arsenal lasted until the final whistle.
They’re putting in so much work in the race for the top four that you could feel nerves rattling through the Emirates from a game they should have won at a gallop. Leeds were 2-0 down within ten minutes, Eddie Nketiah scored twice and the visitors were reduced to ten men after Luke Ayling’s mad, undisciplined red card.
It was one of the worst and most absurd opening minutes from a Premier League team you will ever see. Leeds seemed on track for a real spanking. But Arsenal took their foot off the gas, wasted chances, allowed Leeds to stage the most unlikely comeback and the visitors almost snatched something from a game they could easily have lost five or six to nil.
Leeds boss Jesse Marsch pushed his players forward in the final minutes, they showed remarkable spirit considering how poor they were in the first half and now find themselves in the drop zone. How Arsenal didn’t finish the game is unclear. Meanwhile, Leeds face a desperate fight for survival.
They are level on points with Burnley with a far worse goal difference – and it’s easy to see why. Marsch took them on after taking over from Marcelo Bielsa but couldn’t solve their defensive problems and now the spirit and incredible support of Leeds fans is their best chance of survival. If they can get the two together, they can still get out.
Arsenal now go into Thursday’s north London derby on pole position for fourth place, knowing that a win will ensure Champions League football next season. But judging by her nerves and this rollercoaster season, it’s hard to imagine the outcome will be anywhere near as easy.
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To be fair, Arsenal started so quickly they blew Leeds away. Ayling played the ball back to Illan Meslier, the Leeds keeper took a heavy touch and Nketiah lunged with a tackle that pushed the ball over the line. It was a nightmare start for Leeds.
Gabriel Martinelli caused chaos on the left wing, cutting the ball back for Nketiah and the forward trying to convince Arsenal to sweep the ball home. It got much worse for Leeds after 25 minutes. Ayling went two foot on Martinelli, referee Chris Kavanagh showed a yellow card but VAR made him check his screen and he was correctly updated to red.
Ayling is such a good professional but he has really let himself and the club down. Now he will be suspended for the rest of the season. Arsenal should have been out of sight at half-time but a combination of poor finishing and heroic clearances – including an amazing effort by Diego Llorente to somehow get Martin Odegaard’s shot off the line – kept the result low.
The same thing happened after halftime. Arsenal slacked off, they saved for Thursday and Martinelli missed big chances. Then the unthinkable happened. Out of nowhere, the ten men from Leeds met.
A corner was taken, Junior Firpo flicked and Llorente hit the far post. Now Arsenal were shaken. Odegaard missed a chance, Nicolas Pepe inexplicably failed to fire (though from the halfway line) at an empty net when Meslier took a last-minute corner.
Leeds chased an unlikely equaliser. Firpo headed in and substitute Rodrigo put a half-chance straight at Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale in the 93rd minute. At the final whistle, relief could be felt in the stadium. Nobody can imagine how this came about. But Leeds’ fight for survival begins now.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/arsenal-leeds-tottenham-spurs-derby-26907259 Arsenal's nervous sacking from Leeds shows why Tottenham showdown will be real test - John Cross