Monday, August 2

Arsenal’s new love story: Aubameyang, the big winner when young playmakers leave Leeds in a daze

Match Stats: Arsenal 4-2 Leeds United

There was never any doubt.

People may have debated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s alleged disappearance this season, but no one at Arsenal believed for a second that their captain’s best days were gone and gone.

On Sunday, he reminded all of his skeptics outside North London that if he is given the opportunities in front of goal, he will seize them.

Aubameyang was in his deadly prime against Leeds, scoring his first hat-trick in the Premier League when Arsenal bounced back from two consecutive Premier League losses with a 4-2 win.

Mikel Arteta’s team was exceptional in the first half, with the attacking trio of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe smashing Marcelo Bielsa’s team with their pace and movement in the final third.

This was Odegaard’s first start since his loan from Real Madrid and he settled smoothly at No. 10, with Saka and Smith Rowe on either side.

One of the main criticisms of Arsenal this season has focused on how static they have been when they advance. The lack of movement and creativity has made them easy to cope with.

But for the first 45 minutes they were the exact opposite. Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard were exceptional and Leeds had no response.

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It was a true throwback to the days of Arsene Wenger, when he filled his midfield with players like Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, who in turn were licensed to express themselves and supply forwards.

Aubameyang was the beneficiary here and made the most of it, scoring two goals in the first half and adding a third shortly after the break.

The Gabon international has already scored 11 goals in 23 games this season. While that may not live up to his usual standards, during most of those appearances he was always hungry for any meaningful service.

Since December 16, however, he has scored seven goals in nine games, and with players like Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard behind him, he is starting to look as prolific as usual.

He opened the scoring against Leeds with a classic Aubameyang goal, cutting from the left and overtaking Illan Meslier after being picked by the excellent Granit Xhaka.

The Gunners captain added a second from the penalty spot after the sensational Saka slipped into Meslier’s pocket in the penalty area and was brought down by the hapless Leeds keeper.

It was no more than Arsenal deserved and they closed out a dominant first half when Hector Bellerin kicked into action with a powerful push after a wonderful team play to make it 3-0.

Things got even better for the home team just two minutes after the second half when a fabulous cross from Smith Rowe caught Aubameyang, who completed his hat-trick with a header off the back post.


Leeds threatened an unlikely comeback in the final half hour thanks to goals from Pascal Strujik and Helder Costa, but by then the damage was done, and the Gunners were unlucky enough not to extend the lead when Aubameyang crashed an effort against the post.

The two goals they conceded will have disappointed Arteta, but the Arsenal manager will be very excited about some of the attacking plays from his young playmakers.

When Odegaard signed from Madrid, all that was talked about was whether his arrival would slow down Smith Rowe’s development.

Arteta was always adamant that they could play together and they agreed with their coach with a performance that points to an exciting end to the season for Arsenal.

Sunday’s victory saw them rise to 10th place in the Premier League and leaves them just six points behind Liverpool in fourth and five behind West Ham in sixth.

The prospect of a European spot seemed like a distant dream a few days before Christmas, but Arteta’s team have had a chance to fight back with their best performances since defeating Chelsea on Boxing Day.

The losses to Wolves and Aston Villa showed that there is still a lot of room for improvement at Arsenal, but there is no question that they are on the right track again after some really difficult moments during the first half of the season.

And with Aubameyang returning to his best and Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard behind him, Arteta’s team has every right to be excited for what might come.

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