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London: Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Leeds United was an advertisement for the precocious and precarious nature of Arsenal’s youth. the gunners took another important step towards champions league qualification with a vital victory, initially the product of their vitality and effort to capitalize on a terrible first half from their opponents before giving way to an unnecessarily nervous finish in which they nearly lost two goals. advantage against 10 men.
The catalyst for Arsenal’s renaissance this season came from a group of young players who took the opportunity to try to redefine the modern Arsenal: Bukayo Saka is the poster boy, but Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Aaron Ramsdale are among them who have contributed this term beyond initial expectations. Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli have joined the party in recent weeks, particularly the former, who scored both goals here and continues to improve his case for Arsenal to break the deadlock over his contract situation with his current deal set to expire. in a matter of weeks. .
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however, this is a time of the season where talent must align with temperament with prizes in sight.
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leeds improved after halftime it could hardly have been worse but what should have been a comfortable ride in early may turned into a tense finish after diego llorente converted a clever set piece routine from 66 minutes to halve the deficit. substitute nicolas pepe did not know how to raise his head to see an open goal with goalkeeper illan meslier at a corner kick in a frantic ending, a moment that served as a metaphor for the lack of game management that almost cost them dearly.
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However, they went too far with Mohamed Elneny, a particularly important presence in the last 20 minutes, restricting Leeds on the counterattack and allowing Arsenal to play as much of the game as possible in the opposing half.
there are likely to be nervous moments ahead. They go into Thursday’s North London Derby at Tottenham Hotspur knowing victory would secure a top-four finish. However, defeat would leave them a point clear, and with Spurs facing Burnley a day before Arsenal go to Newcastle United, the Gunners could start at Tyneside in fifth place.
This is what is at stake at this point in the season.
“when you look at the other games, you see a lot of [management nerves] because now is the decisive moment in which a goal can change a whole season and that plays in the back of the mind”, said mikel arteta after the game . “But I didn’t see any of that at the start of the game.
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They gift-wrapped nketiah’s first goal when meslier made a painstaking touch dealing with luke ayling’s backwards pass. nketiah closed it down quickly, in a way alexandre lacazette probably wouldn’t have done, to tackle and score in one move inside the six-yard box. This was just the beginning of a remarkable afternoon for Ayling, the 500th appearance of his career, as he was given a torrid time by Martinelli, who spent it jumping to set up in a second while Nketiah, not marking 12 yards, swept home a second in 10 minutes.
leeds was chaotic and ayling compounded her misery by going in with both feet in a reckless and idiotic challenge on martinelli. Inexplicably, referee Chris Kavanagh responded with a yellow card, but Var John Brooks suggested that he look at the incident again and the decision was correctly upgraded to a red card.
Ayling is likely to receive a three-game suspension and therefore her season could be over. Raphinha could have easily followed him as he angrily protested the decision, but despite him staying on the field, Leeds finished the half with more red cards (one) than shots (nil).
“We dug ourselves a huge hole and made a difficult task much more difficult,” Leeds boss Jesse Marsch said, mastering the art of understatement. They almost snatched a point in stoppage time when Junior Firpo headed a long free kick forward, but Rodrigo could only land a tame header straight at Ramsdale.
Arsenal held on and headed into Thursday’s derby knowing all the pressure is on Spurs in the race to secure fourth place. therefore, they should be able to play with a greater sense of freedom. young players tend to be able to do that, but they’ll also need to control their nerves.