On Sunday, Arsenal hosted a Leeds side desperately fighting to avoid relegation. With Spurs having traveled to Anfield and come away with a point, the pressure was on for the Gunners to win. Mikel Arteta’s men did just that, but certainly made things more difficult than they needed to be. However, Arsenal are now a win at Spurs away from qualifying for the Champions League. Below are four Hits — players who were standouts on the day — and three Misses — players whose standing likely suffered during the match — from an important 2-1 victory.
For the second time in four matches, Nketiah notched a brace for Arsenal. The academy product got his first after Illan Meslier dallied on the ball and allowed Nketiah to sweep it off the Frenchman’s foot and into the back of the net in the fifth minute of the match. The second came just a few minutes later, with Gabriel Martinelli cutting the ball back for the English striker to fire home. Nketiah’s performance up front has been immensely refreshing. In contrast to Alexandre Lacazette, Nketiah has adequately served as both an outlet in buildup play and as a goalscorer at a crucial time in the season. He has locked down the position, and is announcing to the world that he deserves to start for a big club. If reports are to be believed, he might be starting for the Ghanaian national team soon enough.
It was only recently that Arteta suggested that Tomiyasu could play left-back. On Sunday, the Japanese international was given a test at the position and passed with flying colors. Just as he has on the right flank, Tomiyasu played shutdown defense on the left, keeping Raphinha quiet to the point of visible frustration. He also combined well with Martinelli going forward, contributing to the Brazilian’s impressive performance. The defender played more passes into the final third than any other play on the pitch that day, and finished with perfect passing accuracy in that regard. While he may have been culpable in Leed’s goal for not adequately covering the back post, the former Bologna man did more than enough to be forgiven. Tomiyasu’s return in the final weeks of the season has been rejuvenating to Arsenal’s defense. He will be crucial against Spurs on Thursday.
Martinelli gave the right side of Leeds’ defense an absolute roasting in the first half. For the second time in as many matches, he provided the assist for the winning goal, beating two defenders to get to the byline before deftly sliding the ball toward the penalty spot for Nketiah to tuck away. Seventeen minutes later, he was lucky to escape uninjured from a disgusting two-footed challenge that Luke Ayling would earn a red card for. Martinelli also got into some great goalscoring positions but unfortunately could not find the finish on the day. Additionally, his defensive contributions helped stifle Raphinha. At just the right time, Martinelli appears to be picking up a bit of form.
Effectively functioning as a lone six in the second half on Sunday, Elneny once again provided stability in Arsenal’s midfield in place of Thomas Partey. The Egyptian was terrific on the ball, finishing with 97.5% passing accuracy and 97.8% passing accuracy in the opposition half. However, only 10% of his passes went backwards. Elneny was also reliable defensively, regularly winning the ball back and keeping Arsenal out of trouble. He has made himself vital to the side as long as Partey is out.
A significant worry among Arsenal supporters leading up to the match was how Tavares would fare against Raphinha. However, Arteta opted to avoid that scenario altogether, swapping out the Portuguese left-back for Cedric and having Tomiyasu play the position. The decision undoubtedly shows a lack of trust in Tavares’ defensive ability, and a well-founded one if you have watched the last few matches. Given the front line Arsenal will be tasked to defend against on Thursday, it appears unlikely Tavares will feature then either. In the wake of links to Bologna’s Aaron Hickey, this development represents a concern regarding Tavares’ long-term future at the club.
Pépé has not been called upon in recent weeks, and his cameo on Sunday goes a long way toward explaining why. The Ivorian came on for Bukayo Saka in the 68th minute and proceeded to be rather anonymous. He had a golden opportunity to put the match to bed late on when the ball fell to him one-on-one with Dan James and Meslier having come up for a Leeds corner. Instead of knocking the ball past his man and going for goal, Pépé tried to cut inside on his preferred left foot and lost possession. The maneuver earned him a reported dressing down from assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg at full time. With Arsenal approaching a critical last three games and being linked to wide players like Cody Gakpo and Moussa Diaby, it could well be the case that Sunday was the last we’ve seen of Nicolas Pépé in an Arsenal shirt.
Nketiah has seemingly run away with the center forward position that Lacazette occupied for the majority of the season. However, the French striker was afforded an opportunity to come on in stoppage time and help see out Arsenal’s narrow 2-1 lead. But in the few minutes he was on the pitch, it was clear to see that he simply doesn’t have the dynamism that Nketiah possesses. With Nketiah scoring consistently and offering both reliable linkup play and the speed to keep opposing defenses honest, Lacazette will likely have to get used to warming the bench for the remainder of the season.
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