Result: Arsenal 4-2 Leeds
Competition: Premier League
Date: 14 February 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Ceballos, Odegaard, Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang
Subs: Ryan, Chambers, Holding, Mari, Elneny, Willian, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his first Premier League hat-trick as Arsenal overcame a dogged Leeds United 4-2 at the Emirates.
Hector Bellerin’s stoppage time goal after Aubameyang had hit a brace, including one from the spot, ensured the Gunners had a healthy three-goal advantage at the break. The game looked dead and buried when Aubameyang headed home from close range two minutes after the restart but Marcelo Bielsa’s stepped up the pressure and twice reduced the deficit through Pascal Struijk’s header and Helder Costa’s smart finish.
Both sides had opportunities to net further goals in the closing stages of an entertaining encounter but it was Mikel Arteta’s side who took the three points to climb above Leeds in the table.
Mikel Arteta made five changes from the side that started against Aston Villa. Martin Odegaard was handed his first start at the expense of Nicolas Pepe. The Norwegian took up the number 10 role with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe flanking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was preferred up top over Alex Lacazette. In midfield, Dani Ceballos replaced the injured Thomas Partey and at the back David Luiz, back from suspension, partnered compatriot Gabriel meaning Rob Holding dropped to the bench. Bernd Leno, also returning after his red card at Wolves, started ahead of Mat Ryan.
Having been unlucky to lose the last two games, we knew there was no margin for error against Leeds and started like we meant business. Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Ceballos and Saka were eager to support Aubameyang and we worked intricate triangles all over the pitch with quick and precise passing. It had the whiff of an Arsene Wenger side.
Smith Rowe and Bellerin both went over inside the opening four minutes and Cedric was worked into a dangerous area only for a heavy touch to let him down. Aside from a Bamford header, which Leno saved easily at his near post, we kept the visitors very quiet.
One of the big criticisms this season has been our failure to score when dominating games, but on this occasion, we did just that. Aubameyang, despite playing centrally, popped up on the left to collect a Xhaka pass and immediately you could tell he wanted to try his luck. Usually, he goes for the curler, but on this occasion, after a couple of stepovers forced Ayling back, he squeezed an effort inside Meslier’s near post. The captain enjoyed that one. (1-0)
Leeds tried to come back into things, Raphinha set up Klich and Harrison but we looked relatively comfortable at the back. David Luiz even looked menacing pushing up the pitch. On 28 minutes he teed up Aubameyang after a one-two with Saka and only a fine block by Ayling denied Aubameyang his second.
We continued to knock at the door. Saka and Odegaard exchanged passes on the touchline before the winger burst into the box teasing Liam Cooper to make a challenge. The Leeds defender stuck out a leg and leaned into our man who hit the turf. Referee Stuart Attwell was quick to point to the spot, however, Andre Marriner on VAR duty suggested he take a second look via the pitchside monitor. After a couple of replays, he overturned his own decision. Mikel Arteta was not impressed.
Thankfully it didn’t matter, five minutes late Saka went down in the box a second time and this time there was no doubt over the award of the penalty. The 19-year-old had his ankles clipped by keeper Meslier who’d panicked after having a back pass stolen off him. Aubameyang stepped up and put the ball to the right of the keeper. (2-0)
On the stroke of half time, Bellerin added a gloss to proceedings finishing a fine team move that included a brilliant jinking run by Saka and some neat passing in the box involving Odegaard and Ceballos who played in the right-back to lash home inside the near post. It was a fantastic goal to round off a great 45 minutes. (3-0)
It only took two minutes to further extend our lead. Smith Rowe showed great determination to get into the box and with a sliced shot picked out Aubameyang who headed home at the back post to complete his first Premier League hat-trick as a Gunner. (4-0)
With a four-goal lead, we got sloppy. Leno had to make a flying save to deny Raphinha on 49 minutes. The German was not impressed by his defence backing off the Brazilian. He was given more reason to be furious moments later when substitute Pascal Struijk climbed high at the near post to crash home a header to reduce the deficit (4-1).
Meslier denied Odegaard before the Norwegian was flagged offside before Arteta made his first change of the afternoon replacing Smith Rowe with Willian.
Raphinha continued to raise pulses in the Arsenal defence. The Brazilian pounced on a loose Ceballos pass on the edge of the area but scuffed wide. You could see the concern on Arteta’s face as the visitors continued to build in confidence. A second goal for the visitors on 68 minutes really furrowed his brow. Roberts stole behind Bellerin and picked out Helder Costa who opened his body to fire past Leno first time. (4-2)
The final 15 minutes were manic. Bamford went down in the box calling for a penalty after Cedric and Gabriel sandwiched him. The referee waved play on and Aubameyang promptly hit the woodwork at the other end.
Arteta tried to calm things down replacing Odegaard, who’d done well, with Elneny. It didn’t work. Attack seemed the best form of defence and again we hit the woodwork before Saka was retrospectively flagged offside. There was still time for Luiz to deny Bamford with a last-ditch tackle and Cedric to force Meslier into a flying save with a swerving shot from distance.