Arsenal 4-1 Leeds (Jesus pen 35′, 55′, White 47′, Xhaka 84’| Kristensen 76′)
EMIRATES STADIUM — Arsenal were a week early. For a frenetic first 30 minutes they came close to April Fool’s Day, but Mikel Arteta’s eleven disciples were redeemed by the return of Jesus.
Gabriel Jesus’ first two goals since October, a close-range Ben White finish and late Granit Xhaka header ensured the Gunners regained their eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League. Although Rasmus Kristensen’s deflected strike with 15 minutes to go ended Arsenal’s clean sheet hopes, it did little else to a buoyant Emirates faithful.
But for the opening half-an-hour, Leeds were comfortably the stronger side, repeatedly ransacking the Arsenal backline, but falling short without a recognised striker.
Yet as has become a habit in N7, Arteta’s side altered their fates in an instant and stymied Javi Gracia’s Gorgonzola-outfitted outfit. They are now the first side to win seven consecutive Premier League games this season, a remarkable transformation from their February defeats to Everton and Manchester City.
Arsenal fans’ already-friable nerves were triggered right from the off, as Kristensen evoked memories of Phillip Billing and Bournemouth’s nine-second opener. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s slip released Luis Sinisterra into space, but Kristensen’s effort was saved well by Aaron Ramsdale.
Gabriel Martinelli fired wide shortly after and Jesus headed Xhaka’s cross on eleven minutes, but Leeds were markedly stronger early on, with Bukayo Saka’s absence due to illness clearly limiting the Gunners.
Whites fans may argue that Luke Ayling’s clumsy challenge to fell a shimmying Jesus on the half-hour mark is typical of their season. Coming just after excellent chances for Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison, Xhaka found the Brazilian on the left-hand side of the penalty area. While he evaded Pascal Struijk, Luke Ayling was not so lucky.
The relaxed nature of Jesus’ spot-kick belied his long absence, this being his first league start since before the World Cup. He waited for Illan Meslier to dive, which he dutifully did, and the ex-Man City forward ensured his current side would continue to keep pace with his former employers.
If Arsenal are beginning to exhibit a penchant for slow starts in the first-half, they’re showing no such worry in the second. Most fans were still finishing their half-time Primes when the electric Martinelli sashayed past Ayling and found White across the face of goal.
There were concerns before the game as to whether White would even start, as he left the warm-up early alongside the physio. With Takehiro Tomiyasu already ruled out and no other recognised right-back in the squad, this highlighted the tightrope the Gunners continue to tread with injuries. Yet White emerged as hoped to score his second league goal in four games, and that familiar comfort began to unfurl across the Emirates.
Eight minutes later, Jesus stabbed home Leandro Trossard’s pass from the penalty spot after a slick move. When Kristensen’s consolation richochted off Zinchenko and past Ramsdale, the home crowd hardly missed a beat, although Arteta may be concerned by his side’s continued defensively leakiness.
Once on the pitch, Saka demonstrated the significant role his reputation has come to play, as four Leeds defenders followed him wide, allowing Martin Odegaard to find an unmarked Xhaka in front of Meslier’s goal. The captain did what was expected of him, and Arsenal scored four goals at home for the third Premier League game from their last four.
Leeds will not have travelled to north London with much expectation, so will likely not be too disappointing, but the clear nature of their collapse once Arsenal scored will not encourage Gracia. Brenden Aaronson was anonymous as a false nine, while Ayling was battered and bullied by Martinelli.
But there are more weighty clashes to come in their relegation battle, with Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace up next for the Yorkshire side.
Arsenal demonstrated that they can perform without their starboy, with Martinelli making some crucial defensive tackles alongside his brutally direct counter-attacking runs. Jesus’ resurrection may also have come at the ideal moment for the side which appear to be champions elect.
If this week was Easter come early, Arteta’s men can continue dreaming that Christmas will fall prematurely too.