Well, that was stressful. On Sunday, Arsenal traveled to Elland Road to take on Leeds United. A terrific winning goal from Bukayo Saka belied a match which was initially disrupted by technical difficulties for the referees before Jesse Marsch’s men thoroughly dominated the second half of a delayed match. The Gunners were forced to weather wave after wave of attacks from Leeds, and rarely looked comfortable. Through their phenomenal pressing and high-intensity style, Leeds gave Mikel Arteta’s charges easily their most difficult challenge of the season. But Arsenal ground out a win as Liverpool defeated City, leaving them four points clear in first place. Below are three Hits and three Misses from the 1-0 win.
Ramsdale was easily Arsenal’s Man of the Match. The English keeper made several all-important saves on Sunday, even painfully taking a point-blank shot between the legs in an effort to maintain his side’s lead. Credit also has to go to him for Patrick Bamford’s missed penalty; although Bamford fired off target, Ramsdale forced that by excellently covering the correct side of the goal and causing the striker to put the ball a little more to the right to try to beat him. His passing was a little wanting at times, but much of that likely can be attributed to Leeds’ press. But Ramsdale saved his team’s skins and did it while hilariously trolling the home fans.
Let’s get it out of the way: Gabriel’s reaction to Bamford’s baiting late into stoppage time was silly. Thankfully, the red card and penalty awarded against him were reversed, and given Arsenal’s historic luck with this sort of thing, it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which they weren’t. But the Brazilian defender was tremendous outside of that. He finished with six of seven ground duels won and success in both of his aerial duels as well. He also managed four clearances, four blocked shots, three interceptions, and three tackles. Normally, Saliba is the star of the show in that duo, pulling the strings and quashing would-be threats. But when the match was out of control his teammates’ backs were against the wall, the Brazilian stepped up.
It is understandable to be used to Arsenal dominating matches. Until Thursday, the Gunners had been firmly in control of practically every match they had played so far, consistently overmatching opponents in indicative statistics such as possession, xG, final third entries, and field tilt. Thursday had been tricky, but on Sunday, Arteta’s men were thoroughly outplayed for the first time in the 2022/23 campaign. Instead of earning the three points in style, they fought and clawed to win them. Instead of defending with the ball, they defended for their lives. They rode their luck. They made last-ditch tackles and relied on their keeper. And in the end, they pull out an ugly win. But it is a win nonetheless, and it shows that Arsenal have it in their locker to cope with matches that get out of hand. Hopefully they won’t need to rely on that too much, but it is good to know it is there.
Sunday was far and away Jesus’ worst performance in an Arsenal shirt. In the 21st minute of the match, a terrific low cross by Gabriel Martinelli found its way to Martin Odegaard, who flicked it on for the former City man in the six-yard box. But somehow, Jesus managed to sky the ball over the crossbar when only a simple chip was required. Unfortunately, the Brazilian striker failed to involve himself much in the match as Leeds’ constant pressure kept him from doing so. Jesus often found himself dropping deep just for a sight of the ball. It was a quiet day from the summer’s marquee signing.
Losing out to Takehiro Tomiyasu for the Liverpool match was understandable. Tomiyasu is bigger and a stronger defender on his right side, which proved wonderfully effective against Mohamed Salah. But the decision had the feel of a specific tactical tweak, and it was assumed Tierney would reclaim his place in the absence of Oleksandr Zinchenko. However, Tomiyasu started once more at left back against Leeds, begging the question of where in the pecking order the Scotsman currently sits. Tierney is a great defender, but Zinchenko and now Tomiyasu being chosen over him suggests that Arteta does not trust the Arsenal no. 3’s distribution ability.
It would appear that Saliba is human after all. The Frenchman had perhaps his weakest showing of the season as even he eventually succumbed to the potency of Leeds’ play off the ball. Saliba had an unfortunate giveaway that gifted Bamford a one-on-one opportunity against Ramsdale. He also committed the handball that earned Leeds a penalty kick. Luckily, Bamford would miss it. Sunday was a reminder that despite how clearly destined for glory he seems, Saliba is still young and capable of making mistakes.
Sham writes and podcasts regularly about The Arsenal, and once got his car up to 107 MPH while racing a Porsche on some backroad in southwest Virginia. He can be followed on Twitter @dopegooner.