(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
After a great first half, we came out successful against tonight’s opponents, beating Leeds United 4-2 at the Emirates. Here’s four things I noticed from the win…
In his first start since returning from several weeks away from the team due to a family issue, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back with a bang! The Gabonese striker did not only get on the scoresheet, but registered his first EVER Premier League hattrick. His first goal was one we have seen so many times before- his trademark move; cutting in from the left and getting his shot off. After setting the side off to an early start, Aubameyang scored his second goal in the closing minutes before half time- converting from 12 yards after Bukayo Saka was brought down in the box. The Arsenal captain crowned off a successful night with his third- heading in a world class Emile Smith Rowe cross from close range.
In what has been a difficult season for Aubameyang, his hattrick against Leeds was a subtle reminder of just how good he can be. If we want to make anything of the remainder of the season, it’s absolutely essential that Aubameyang can keep his name of the scoresheet for as long as possible.
Bukayo Saka’s game impact.
Despite not registering a goal involvement today, Bukayo Saka once again shone out against Leeds. The talented teenager won the penalty for our second goal, could (SHOULD!) have had another penalty, hit the post, and was key to the build-up for another goal. All round, Saka proved that the difference between him and a lot of the other young players in the Premier League is the drastic overall influence he can have on a football match- and how his game is far more developed than just goals and assists. His linkup play with the likes of Ødegaard, Smith Rowe and even Aubameyang was impressive as always… Saka really is proving why he is the player we should be scaffolding our future around.
It’s getting to the point where it might be time to have a very stern conversation about Bukayo Saka being one of the best right wingers in the league. Bar the incredible Mo Salah, who has had a better season than our starboy?
A midfield masterclass…
While the further injury sustained by Thomas Partey in our last match frustrated and worried a large majority of the Arsenal fanbase, today we managed to cope well without our Ghanaian. It seems only right to say that I, like many other Arsenal fans, have not held back in critiquing Dani Ceballos this season- but tonight, I thought he was very solid. Not only did he delicately slide Bellerin in for the fourth goal, but Ceballos (alongside Xhaka) dominated the midfield. In the post-match interview, Leeds manager Marco Bielsa supported this statement, suggesting that “we [Leeds] didn’t manage to control Xhaka and Ceballos.
We must also praise Ceballos’ pivot partner for today’s display. I thought Granit Xhaka, another player who has been subject to vast criticism since joining Arsenal, put out a very respectable performance. He was controlling and direct on the ball, whilst also assisting Aubameyang for the first goal. In fact, it’s hard to fault Xhaka’s performances in the run since Boxing Day- he’s been consistently solid for a while now, and often doesn’t receive the due praise.
Persistence with Willian?!
Look. It’s become boring to sit here after every game and talk about him, but it simply has to be said. 62 minutes into the game, Smith Rowe was taken off, and replaced by Willian. Whilst the decision to take Smith Rowe off (with an eye on our midweek fixture against Benfica) made logical sense, I cannot even reason as to why it was Willian who was brought on as our first substitute. In the half season he’s been here, he has shown absolutely nothing to justify getting minutes over the likes of Martinelli. Even as an Arteta supporter, his persistence with Willian is infuriating, and becoming even harder to rationalize as the weeks progress. Today, Willian lost possession with five of his ten touches in the game [Stat via: Squawka]… embarrassing.
Not only does Willian do little to nothing on the pitch, but I genuinely believe the team look drastically worse when he comes on. I have the upmost faith that Gabriel Martinelli has an expansive and successful future ahead of him, but how can anyone expect him to fulfil his potential when he isn’t getting minutes over a ineffectual and declining 32-year-old? It simply doesn’t compute to me.
To end on a more positive note… we went in to this game needing three points and came out with just that. Thus, there are no real complaints in my eyes. Elated to see Aubameyang back in the goals, to see the excellent performances from the likes of Ødegaard, Saka, Smith Rowe and others. We have to keep this momentum going and get the win in the crucial Europa League tie against Benfica on Thursday.
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