Arsenal attack clicks with Aubameyang, Odegaard showing best of Arteta’s ideas against Leeds
LONDON – Arsenal fans may be able to start expecting the unexpected again. A lingering criticism of manager Mikel Arteta is the Gunners’ rigidity in attacking positions which has often led to an inability to translate possession into clear scoring opportunities. Leeds United may have been willing accomplices at the Emirates Stadium, but Sunday’s 4-2 win presented a more alluring take on what Arteta is aiming to achieve – but not as many had hoped.
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It emerged when Martin Odegaard arrived at the club on loan from Real Madrid that he would find himself in a rotation with Emile Smith Rowe, who seized his opportunity in the first team with great aplomb but could not reasonably be called upon to. carry a heavy creative burden in its breakthrough season. Still, Arteta opted to give Odegaard his first start alongside Smith Rowe, the first as a No.10 in a three-way forward midfielder with Bukayo Saka on the right behind the central striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fit 4-2-3-1.
What followed was one of Arsenal’s most dynamic offensive performances of the season, with Aubameyang clearly reveling in the creativity provided by his supporting cast. “I was thinking [the creativity in the final third] was much better, ”said Arteta. “We were much more efficient and we were calm. We took our time when needed. We had movement, races behind, people in the box and arriving in the box. Our decision making was much better and our efficiency, we were hitting shots and a lot of them were on target. It was the difference. “
Odegaard and Smith Rowe traded positions with impressive fluidity, Saka threatened Leeds with a mix of pace and calm decision-making in the final third and Aubameyang used the first Premier League hat-trick of his career.
Only West Brom (55) have conceded more goals than Leeds’ 42 in the top flight this quarter, and the price they are willing to pay for showing such relentless attacking intent is an opening the top teams can exploit. . The Gunners didn’t always seem capable of seizing such opportunities, but they did so here in what no doubt felt like some kind of cathartic release after frustrating losses to Wolves and Aston Villa.
These games contained a controversy related to VAR (a David Luiz red card to Molineux, which the club tried in vain to appeal, before being denied the advantage of a man for a foul on Bukayo Saka, and later, a loud penalty cry at Villa Park). On Sunday he appeared unlucky for the third time. Aubameyang had already put Arsenal in the lead with a narrow 13th-minute drive by the time Saka barged in on goal, only to come under contact with the Leeds captain Liam Cooper. Referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot, but reviewed the decision on the side’s monitor and ruled that Cooper hadn’t made enough contact to knock Saka down.
Arteta was furious on the sideline, but Saka continued unperturbed, prompting goalkeeper Ilian Meslier to make a mistake as he slipped on the ball, winning a shot beyond the discord. Aubameyang converted and Arsenal established control that they never really seemed to give up, with Hector Bellerin smashing the house a third after a great job around the Saka box and Dani Ceballos. It was the first league game this season in which the Gunners scored three goals in the first half.
Smith Rowe set up Aubameyang’s third with a superb ball two minutes into the restart, before Leeds hit twice Pascal Struijk and replace Helder costa to take a little sparkle off the Gunners’ victory. The final stages were a little more uncomfortable than Arsenal could have liked, but parity never seemed to be restored.
Aubameyang walked away with the match ball, having pledged in his program notes to “repay all the love” shown to him during a difficult time in which he missed games while dealing with his sick mother. He did, and then a few here, scoring his 200th league goal in the Top 5 of European divisions and reaching 36 Premier League goals for Arsenal. Only Jamie Vardy (46), Mohamed salah (42) and Sadio Mane (37) have scored more since Aubameyang debuted in February 2018.
“It’s been a tough time for me, but now it’s time to smile again and win games and score goals, that’s all,” Aubameyang said. “Everyone around the club gave a lot of love to me, my mom and my family, so I’m really, really happy and I’m really proud to be part of this family. I’m really happy today, la victory and goals – it’s for them. “
Arteta said of his center-forward: “He put in a great performance not only for the goals, but also for the way he worked without the ball.”
Aubameyang added power to the goal injected by Saka in particular, who continues to excel; it was Gabriel Martinelli that set the tone for this team when they came back to the side, but these days Saka is playing that role with remarkable consistency. Its shape is so good that Willian and signing of the club record Nicolas Pepe are among those who will have to answer to carve out a place on the team.
The challenge for Arsenal now, as has been the case in previous purple patches, is to play with such ingenuity against better opponents. Arsenal’s next four games are the two matches of the last 32 Europa League games against Benfica, as well as tough clashes against Premier League leaders Manchester City and Leicester City. These opponents won’t be as accommodating as Leeds, but Arsenal now have a prime example of their expressionism to lean on.