Gabriel Martinelli scored in a second successive Premier League game as his early double saw Arsenal past an injury-hit Leeds, winning 4-1 at Elland Road.
It was the only Premier League game to go ahead on Saturday after Aston Villa’s match against Burnley was postponed due to a number of positive Covid-19 tests, and it was an entertaining encounter.
Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa had told Sky Sports before the game he had seven defenders missing, and their absences showed as Arsenal overran their hosts in the first half.
The Arsenal focus continues to be on the absence of former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but as they had shown in their last two games against Southampton and West Ham, the Gunners are not struggling for goals as Martinelli scored twice in under half an hour.
11 – Arsenal’s 11 shots on target in the first half against Leeds is the most on record (since 2003-04) in the opening 45 minutes by any side in a single Premier League first half. Peppered. #LEEARS pic.twitter.com/zO8RjbcmAy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 18, 2021
The first saw the 20-year-old fire home a loose ball (16), before a superb chip over Illan Meslier (28) added his second. Bukayo Saka (42) contributed with Arsenal’s third just before the break, squeezing the ball home on a tight angle.
Leeds were improved after the break – although their first shot on target did not come until the 72nd minute – and gave themselves a lifeline when Joe Gelhardt was hacked down by former Leeds loanee Ben White inside the area.
Leeds turn to young guns as injuries bite
- Cody Drameh (20) made his full Premier League debut.
- Joe Gelhardt (19) made his second Premier League start .
- Sam Greenwood (19) made his Premier League debut from the bench.
- Substitute Liam McCarron (20) also made his Premier League debut.
Raphinha smashed the penalty home (75), but Arsenal soon wrapped up the points with a superb finish from substitute Emile Smith Rowe (84).
The result guarantees Arsenal a spot in the top four over Christmas with a number of games postponed this weekend, sitting four points clear of West Ham in fifth. Leeds also remain in 16th, five points clear of the bottom three, although the teams below them do hold games in hand.
How Arsenal saw off injury-hit Leeds
Arsenal had a string of early chances at a foggy Elland Road. Meslier made a superb initial save from Alexandre Lacazette’s shot, with Saka sending the rebound agonisingly wide of an open goal. Soon after, Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney both fired goalwards, but their attempts were stopped by the Leeds goalkeeper.
Arsenal soon made the breakthrough. Stuart Dallas and Jack Harrison were caught dallying on the ball by Saka, who drove forward. He picked out Lacazette, who was initially dispossessed by Adam Forshaw. A loose ball then fell to Martinelli, who fired home past Meslier’s fingertips.
Arsenal continued to work Meslier – Tierney drawing another fine save – but Leeds should have equalised in the 25th minute. Raphinha ran onto a wonderful long ball, cutting past Tierney and White, but his effort dragged mere inches wide of the post as Leeds’ best chance of the first half went begging.
Leeds: Meslier (6), Ayling (6), Drameh (6), Koch (5), Forshaw (5), Dallas (6), Harrison (5), Klich (6), Raphinha (6), Gelhardt (6), Roberts (5).
Subs used: Summerville (6), Greenwood (n/a), McCarron (n/a).
Arsenal: Ramsdale (6), Tierney (7), Tomiyasu (7), White (7), Gabriel (7), Xhaka (6), Partey (6), Saka (7), Odegaard (7), Martinelli (8), Lacazette (8).
Subs used: Cedric (6), Smith Rowe (6), Tavares (n/a).
Man of the match: Gabriel Martinelli.
They were made to pay when Arsenal doubled their lead soon after. It was another poor midfield error from Forshaw that saw Granit Xhaka with the ball. His perfectly-timed pass sent Martinelli through and the striker kept his composure with Cody Drameh on his shoulder, before dinking over Meslier with a truly wonderful finish.
Saka added to Leeds’ woes as he scored Arsenal’s third shortly before the break. Martin Odegaard found him down the right before Saka dinked across the top of the area. Similar to the second, Leeds thought they had won the ball back but Lacazette was there to nick it back. It fell again to Saka, who found himself some space before squeezing the ball in at the near post. There was a brief VAR check, but the goal rightly stood.
- Leeds made four changes, having been without 10 first team players for the visit for Arsenal
- 20-year-old Cody Drameh made his full Premier League debut. Robin Koch returned to the starting XI while Joe Gelhardt made only his second Premier League start. Mateusz Klich was also fit enough to be in the starting XI.
- In contrast, Arsenal were unchanged from their 2-0 win over West Ham. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remained out of the side after a ‘disciplinary breach’ last Saturday.
- It was the fourth successive Premier League game Arsenal have named an unchanged line-up, the first time this has happened since May 2015.
The second half started with two crunching tackles that could have seen both sides down to 10 men. The challenges were almost identical too – Xhaka catching Raphinha on the ankle as he followed through and Gelhardt doing the same to Takehiro Tomiyasu minutes later. Despite VAR checks, it was a yellow card apiece.
Leeds saw much more of the play after the break, but still struggled to create many clear-cut chances – their first shot on target came in the 72nd minute as Tyler Roberts’ effort went straight at Aaron Ramsdale. Saka almost scored an Arsenal fourth just before after a neat one-two with Martinelli, but dragged his effort wide of the far post.
Leeds did nab themselves a lifeline with 15 minutes to play when they were awarded a penalty. It was a rash challenge from White on his return to Elland Road that swept Gelhardt to the floor. Raphinha set the ball on the spot and it was a thumping penalty from the Leeds forward, who smashed home his third spot-kick of the season.
But Smith Rowe soon made sure of the points as first-half errors again crept into Leeds’ play. It was a superb chipped pass from Odegaard to set him up as Smith Rowe confidently finished with his first touch to seal a third successive Premier League victory for Arsenal.
Man of the match – Gabriel Martinelli
Martinelli is proving he can fill Aubameyang’s shoes with his third goal in two Premier League games. He topped the match rankings for goals (2), shots on target (2), chances created (5) and crosses (5).
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville said: “Two goals, outstanding all night. He’s been a real problem for Leeds and he’s been the best Arsenal player on the pitch.”
1 – Gabriel Martinelli has scored his first @premierleague brace in his 39th appearance in the competition, while he has as many goals in his last two league matches for Arsenal as he had in his previous 24 beforehand (3). Form. pic.twitter.com/XVyZBNWmmm
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 18, 2021
When asked how big a step is Martinelli is taking, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said: “Huge. That’s why you have to prepare a player. You can’t throw in a player when you think he’s not ready.
“Gabi has made the right steps and is evolving in the right direction. He has huge potential and I don’t know where the ceiling is. He has so much still to improve.
“He’s very humble, he works hard and he puts his head down. When that happens, his big passion in life is football and I think good things are going to happen for him.”
What the managers said
Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa: “It was two different halves. The second half, we could have won it, but the first half we could have lost it by more goals.
“The losses of the ball in our own half and centre of the pitch increases the offensive power of the opponent. To increase the amount of danger we can create, we need to recover the ball when they play out.
“They managed to take the ball off us when we were trying to build and attack and we couldn’t – that’s what explains the difference.
“They prevented us from getting into their half with combination play. Through their recoveries and build-up of their play they created danger.
“There was never a question of whether this game would go ahead. We had a series of injuries which was added to by the illness of Diego Llorente and injury to Charlie Cresswell, but there aren’t rules to stop a game due to injuries or suspensions.
“Jack Harrison took a strong blow to his hip and it was one that prevented him from continuing to play but it won’t take long to recover. He was on the field for 30 minutes where he really couldn’t play.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta: “It was a great performance from the lads. They’re the ones who have to play and execute [the game plan] against a team who are very uncomfortable to play against. I’m really pleased with the way they’ve played three games in a week, very physical games as well. I’m really pleased.
“We had some intentions with the ball and understanding how they were going to try and avoid us playing. I think the players understood the game really well. We were really effective, a real threat and in the first half we were really good.
“After a defeat [against Everton], you want a reaction, not just in terms of performance, but results as well. I think we deserved these three wins and we’re really pleased.”
On Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: “He wasn’t involved in today’s game. Let’s see. I’ve tried to be as clear as possible. There’s a privacy matter at the moment that I have to respect.”
On Covid cases in the squad: “Everyone is healthy. We always follow the guidelines. Now it’s play as you can and we’ll play as we can. [The Premier League] will make the best decision for everybody. We want to play all under the same rules. That’s where I think they have to come forward. Whatever they decide is best for the competition, but it has to be explained.”
What the pundits said
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness: “They’ll never have an easier away game this year. In the first half, they could have scored six or seven goals. Leeds were so disjointed and making defensive decisions which will take some understanding. They took their foot off the accelerator in the second half and won easily.
“For Martinelli’s second, Drameh is running forward into Raphinha’s space and he doesn’t sense the danger. I don’t want to be unkind to him, but he must look over his shoulder and see Martinelli.
“Leeds weren’t in total possession of the ball. Leeds play like they’re in the school playground. Leeds are an absolute shambles. The way they’ve been asked to play isn’t going to win you games in the Premier League.
“It was a big moment for Arteta [with Aubameyang]. He’s a young manager, he’s put his foot down and it sends a message out that he won’t be messed around. I like that very much.
“Prior to today’s game, they hadn’t won very much away from home. They’ll take confidence from that. It’s upwards and onwards for them.
Former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford on Sky Sports: “It’s been disastrous over the last few weeks. We’ve touched on it before, but there has just been injuries to key players right the way through the team. Those injuries are right through the core of the side and it’s pretty much the regular starting XI.
“It was extremely disappointing from the point of view of being a threat in the final third and from a defensive point of view, they were all over the place.
“It was too easy for Alexandre Lacazette to lose his man. Robin Koch was following him all over the place, which left gaping holes in the middle of the defence. It’s difficult to find many positives.
“Leeds are five points ahead of the relegation zone. Although there are three games in hand, they still have to be one. Those teams at the bottom of the league at the moment, do they fill me with confidence that they can win enough games to get out of that situation? If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think so.
“That’s got to be playing in the back of Bielsa’s mind, the fans’ minds and the players’ minds. That being said, results have to start improving and the last three or four games have been difficult to take.”
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven away games against Leeds in all competitions (W5 D2), with four of those victories coming via a 4-1 scoreline.
- Leeds have just 16 points from their 18 Premier League games this season, the joint-fewest they’ve ever earned at this stage of a league campaign in their history (converting to three points per win all-time), level with 2006-07 in the Championship.
- Leeds have scored each of their 17 penalties in the Premier League. Of teams currently in the competition, only Liverpool (21) are on a longer current run of successful spot-kicks than the Whites.
- With Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe all scoring, this is the first time in a single Premier League match Arsenal have had three different goalscorers aged 21 or younger.
Live EFL Cup
Tuesday 21st December 7:00pm
Leeds visit Liverpool in the Premier League on Boxing Day; kick-off 12.30pm.
Arsenal host Sunderland in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday, live on Sky Sports Football; kick-off 7.45pm. The Gunners return to Premier League action at Norwich on Boxing Day; kick-off 3pm.