Saka winner keeps Arsenal top after VAR chaos | Marsch: Result is cruel

Bukayo Saka continued his fine form to keep Arsenal on top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Leeds – but the visitors were lucky to escape with victory as Patrick Bamford missed a second-half penalty.

In a bizarre start to the game, a power cut after 60 seconds forced a 40-minute suspension – and a contest that was dominated by VAR drama was nearly played without the video technology.

“There was a moment in there where we almost played without VAR,” said Leeds boss Jesse Marsch after the game – and it went on to take centre stage.

Player ratings

Leeds: Meslier (6); Kristensen (7), Koch (6), Cooper (7), Struijk (6); Adams (6), Roca (7); Aaronson (8), Harrison (7), Sinisterra (8); Rodrigo (5)

Subs: Bamford (8), Klich (6), Summerville (n/a), Gelhardt (n/a)

Arsenal: Ramsdale (9); White (6), Saliba (5), Gabriel (8), Tomiyasu (6); Partey (7), Xhaka (6), Odegaard (7); Saka (8), Jesus (6), Martinelli (7)

Subs: Vieira (6), Tierney (6), Holding (n/a), Nketiah (n/a)

Man of the match: Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

In an even first half where Leeds went toe-to-toe with the league leaders, Saka took advantage of Rodrigo’s needless crossfield ball to crash the Gunners into the lead with an emphatic finish.

Leeds replaced Rodrigo with Bamford at half-time – who changed the flow of the game. First, the striker saw a close-range finish controversially ruled out for offside for a push on Gabriel before putting his spot kick wide after William Saliba handballed.

VAR struck again in stoppage time as Arsenal conceded a penalty and Gabriel was sent off for violent conduct on Bamford, but referee Chris Kavanagh was sent to the monitor and eventually gave a foul in the opposite direction.

Gabriel and Patrick Bamford are separated by Arsenal's Rob Holding after clashing
Gabriel and Patrick Bamford are separated by Arsenal’s Rob Holding after clashing

The result moves Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal four points clear of reigning champions Manchester City, who lost 1-0 against Liverpool on Super Sunday.

How Arsenal edged past Leeds

The match was one minute old when a power cut in the Beeston area of Leeds caused problems. While Leeds put the power back on quickly, VAR and HawkEye could not be connected and both sets of players were taken back to the dressing rooms.

After a 40-minute delay, play resumed and there was no let-up from Leeds. Luis Sinisterra’s rasping drive just seconds from the restart recovered any momentum the Elland Road crowd had lost in the stoppage.

The hosts were well worth their salt in the opening 20 minutes, with Sinisterra crashing a long-range drive into Aaron Ramsdale’s side-netting, while the Arsenal goalkeeper showed superb reflexes to deny Pascal Struijk from close range after a goalmouth scramble.

Both managers are spoken to as play is suspended due to a power cut
Both managers were spoken to as play was suspended due to a power cut

But Arsenal got a foothold in the game and managed to quieten down the Elland Road crowd who were almost waiting in anticipation for an opener. A swift counter-attack saw Gabriel Jesus scoop over the bar from close range, while Martin Odegaard’s free-kick was parried by Illan Meslier.

But the opener came from Leeds’ own hands – or rather the sweeping left boot of Rodrigo. Under no pressure in his own half, the Spaniard tried to find Striujk with a bizarre crossfield ball – which bounced into Saka’s path.

The England winger played a quick one-two with Odegaard before crashing a shot high into the net for a fifth goal in his last eight Arsenal starts.

Marsch punished Rodrigo for the blunder by taking him off at half-time and was in the thick of the action after 30 seconds – slamming the ball in from close range but referee Chris Kavanagh awarded a push in the back on Gabriel in the build-up.

Patrick Bamford missed a second-half penalty at Elland Road
Patrick Bamford missed a second-half penalty at Elland Road

The Leeds striker had another glorious chance as he went through on goal after William Saliba’s poor touch, but Ramsdale came out to close down the angle and save with his chest.

Saliba was caught sleeping again as he handled a bouncing ball in the box, which the rebooted VAR gave, and Bamford thought he had the chance to deservedly level for Leeds.

But the striker dragged his effort wide of Ramsdale’s left-hand post in a major let-off for the Gunners.

Leeds kept going and Brenden Aaronson fed Sinisterra in the box but a superb block by Gabriel stopped a simple tap-in, while Crysencio Summerville blased over in the box late after Aaronson’s cutback.

That Sinisterra chance summed up a frustrating afternoon for Marsch and Co – they battered on the Arsenal door all day but there was no way through.

Gabriel clashes with Patrick Bamford in stoppage time
Gabriel clashes with Patrick Bamford in stoppage time

But as stoppage time began, chaos ensued. Gabriel was adjudged to have kicked out at Bamford with the ball heading out of play. Referee Kavanagh discussed the incident with his assistant and awarded a penalty and a red card for violent conduct.

Arteta was livid with the decision and it wasn’t long until VAR struck again. Kavanagh went to the monitor to check a foul by Bamford on Gabriel in the first place – and reversed both the spot kick and the sending off.

A chaotic occasion which began and ended with VAR drama.

Marsch rues cruel result | Arteta hails resilience

Jesse Marsch reacts after his side were beaten
Jesse Marsch reacts after his side were beaten

Leeds boss Marsch did not draw on the decisions made by VAR and the officials immediately after the game, but did use his post-match press conference to hail the performance of his team.

He also admitted that Rodrigo was going to come off for Bamford in any case, before his mistake for Saka’s winner.

“Disappointed and frustrated a bit – however also proud of the way we played,” Marsch said.

“We’ve had a number of games where we’ve been on top of things and been the better team and we don’t find ways to get goals we deserve.

“And then it keeps the opponent around and it gives them the chance to have a goal or the lead which makes the sport feel very cruel. We need to get better in the final third.”

Arsenal manager Arteta acknowledged the use of video technology was “important” for his side’s victory.

Mikel Arteta celebrates in his typical exuberant style at full-time
Mikel Arteta celebrates in his typically exuberant style at full-time

“If you go to the MLS, it’s common,” said Arteta about the 40-minute stoppage. “When we go there for pre-season, the game can be delayed for thunderstorms, waiting for three or five hours.

“We are not used to that and have to adapt and it was important because VAR was really important and if we played without it, it would have been a different game.”

Arteta praised the resilience his side showed in big moments on Sunday afternoon, especially after travelling back from northern Norway after their Europa League match Bodo/Glimt just 48 hours earlier.

“It’s always hectic here. It’s not a coincidence winning like this, [with] the character showed, the personality showed and the desire to play.

“There were some players who were really struggling on Thursday night, we spent Thursday night in Norway, to then come to Leeds and win both games away from home? Big credit to the players and shows how we are as a team. You have to be able to win in any context.”

Analysis: Arsenal’s resilience makes them contenders

Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz at Elland Road:

They say the sign of champions is winning ugly. And Arsenal have managed two in a week.

First, they edge past Bodo/Glimt 1-0 in northern Norway with Bukayo Saka’s winner coming off his lips. Now they’ve beaten Leeds with Saka netting the winner again with a goal, penalty and red card for the opposition all chalked off by VAR.

Add a fortunate, soft penalty for their winner against Liverpool last week and some will say Arsenal are lucky. But when does luck stop becoming coincidence?

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka holds off Leeds United's Brenden Aaronson
Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka holds off Leeds United’s Brenden Aaronson

The Gunners are where they are – with a four-point buffer at the top of the Premier League table – due to their resilience – the word Mikel Arteta keeps repeating this season.

That resilience runs through the team: The redemption of Granit Xhaka after being stripped of the captaincy, Gabriel looking confident respite recent defensive mistakes against Fulham and Tottenham, Bukayo Saka bouncing back with big moments after his Euro 2020 heartache, Aaron Ramsdale stepping up after back to back relegations.

A few years ago, Arsenal will have lost all three of these games they’ve won in the last seven days. Before they lacked backbone, wilted under pressure and couldn’t respond to being pegged back.

Now they’re the ones to catch. So how far will this ‘luck’ take them?

England squad watch: Excellent Ramsdale shines

Aaron Ramsdale shone for Arsenal while Patrick Bamford impressed for Leeds
Aaron Ramsdale shone for Arsenal while Patrick Bamford impressed for Leeds

“Excellent” was the word Arteta used to describe one of his English stars in his Arsenal team. He wasn’t talking about goalscorer Saka, though.

It was Ramsdale who produced a man of the match display, with the goalkeeper the fundamental reason why Arsenal escaped Elland Road with all three points – despite Saka scoring the winning goal.

Leeds produced an Expected Goals tally of just over 2.0 but Ramsdale came away with a clean sheet. The England goalkeeper produced a flurry of second-half saves to frustrate the hosts – two excellent stops to deny Bamford at his feet – and another stop to deny Aaronson. His personality alone may have been the reason why the former missed his spot kick from 12 yards.

After England’s September international break, there is a fear that Ramsdale is the third-choice goalkeeper for England behind Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope. But displays like Sunday afternoon provide evidence he can become Three Lions No 1.

Gabriel is held back by Rob Holding after clashing with Patrick Bamford
Gabriel is held back by Rob Holding after clashing with Patrick Bamford

Meanwhile, Saka’s excellent form continues in front of goal, with five goals and four assists in his last eight Arsenal starts. The 21-year-old winger is developing a real bond with Odegaard in the Arsenal attack and is knocking on Gareth Southgate’s door for an England starting spot.

Ben White also put in an esteemed display for the visitors – with the right-back struggling at first against Luis Sinisterra but put in some excellent challenges to preserve the clean sheet.

For Leeds, Patrick Bamford continued his progression from the treatment table to troublesome striker with a brilliant second-half cameo.

The striker, who has one England cap to his name from last year, put himself about Arsenal’s centre-halves really well – earning one penalty off Saliba and nearly another off Gabriel late on.

But Bamford’s chances of working his way into Southgate’s plans for Qatar are slimmer than slim at this late stage.

What’s next?

Leeds are back in action on Thursday when they travel to the King Power Stadium to take on Leicester, with kick-off at 8.15pm.

Arsenal’s next game is in the Europa League on Thursday, when they will face PSV in their rearranged fixture at the Emirates, with kick-off at 6pm.

The Gunners then return to Premier League action on Sunday October 23 at St Mary’s, where they face Southampton – live on Sky Sports – with kick-off at 2pm.

Sunday 23rd October 1:00pm

Kick off 2:00pm

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