All things being equal, Arsenal could have ended this absorbing duel with concerns that 476 minutes have passed since their last top flight goal from open play. Instead, they were relieved to start with a point after Nicolas Pépé was rightly sent off for a soft but illegal and utterly idiotic header on Ezgjan Alioski six minutes after the break and the reality is that more clinical opponents would have taken advantage. .
How this goalless game ended is anyone’s guess and Arsenal, despite being put on the ropes towards the end of each half, had their own starts. But Leeds, who hit the wood three times in the latter stages, will consider that they should have won given the number of times they crossed the visitors’ baseline.
Both sides hoped to clear the fog of inconsistency, but neither line-up seemed entirely familiar. In the injured Thomas Partey and the self-isolating Mohamed Elneny, Arsenal missed the colossus of their midfield and their conscience. Joe Willock received his first Premier League minutes of the season, and outwardly added dynamism to rival that of the hosts’ engine room.
Leeds might be relieved with the return of his own axis injury, Kalvin Phillips, but he found novel value in a first right-wing start for his signing Raphinha in October. However, it was on the opposite flank that they created the first significant opportunity of the game, and perhaps Patrick Bamford could have made better use of the opportunity. An expertly timed pass from Jack Harrison brought Alioski to the baseline and Bamford, under some pressure but just six yards from goal, stabbed the ball into Bernd Leno’s arms.
A dozen minutes had passed and Arsenal, for their part, had already shown signs of intention through a Dani Ceballos sighter that flew over the post. The first half was spent in a predictably open vein, frayed and flawed but awash with good intentions, both sides showing an appetite for landing punches, but Leeds ultimately felt they should have gone ahead.
Arsenal’s two best moments were due to new adjustments by Mikel Arteta. First Pépé, called up to the starting lineup and appearing from the left, beat Luke Ayling and spun on a cross that hit the crossbar instead of diving under him. Then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, selected as a center forward for the first time with Arteta in hopes that he could get back in shape, was offered the kind of half-chance that ends a goal drought on a good day. He cut off the near post after a good job from Ceballos, Pepe and Hector Bellerin, and Leeds set out to try and make him pay.
Bamford gave Leno a more demanding test in the half hour when he instinctively volleyed after Ayling’s center bounced awkwardly off Gabriel. The partially blind keeper saved with one hand to the right, but was able to look shortly after when a well-placed Stuart Dallas fired across the field. Leeds now regularly overloaded their wings and, two minutes before the break, a beautiful play ended with Mateusz Klich launching a cross from Alioski from a position that promised much more.
Regular students of the Arsenal job would have detected more ambition in his passing, but moments of sustained threat had emanated from Leeds. If Arteta had demanded more aggression during the break, presumably Pépé’s lively performance was not what he had in mind. Alioski came out of the incident badly, collapsing dramatically at minimal contact. But the standout point was that there was contact, Pépé pushed his forehead against that of Leeds ‘left back as the two pushed close to Leeds’ penalty area with the ball meters away. A VAR check told Anthony Taylor that the motion had merited a red card and, while it was barely recorded as an act of violence, it was the kind of serious mistake that doesn’t help Pépé’s reputation as one of the top signings. extravagantly unsuccessful in recent high-flying history.
Arteta immediately replaced Willock with Bukayo Saka. Initially, Arsenal seemed calm and Aubameyang had the ghost of an opportunity when he spun but failed to connect properly. It took Leeds until the 64th minute to repeat their previous incisiveness and when they did, Leno came to the rescue again by kicking Dallas’ upward momentum.
They opened up Arsenal again when Ayling lost control and squandered an opportunity to punish his former club, after Raphinha dropped the ball on a plate. Ayling was instantly replaced by Rodrigo, who announced his arrival, and Marcelo Bielsa’s intention to make such an offensive change, by cutting and shooting inches from the target. He repeated the trick with 10 minutes to go, leaving Leno on his feet, but this time watching his effort bounce off the top of the bar.
The stage seemed set for a late charge, but the threat from Arsenal had never quite evaporated and could have been stolen when Saka, sent off from Bellerin, tried to surround Illan Meslier but was thwarted by the goalkeeper’s block that saved the game. There was still time for Bamford to head against a pole and Raphinha to latch onto the same vertical position, leaving Pépé very grateful.
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