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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nick Ames at the Emirates Stadium

Gabriel Jesus doubles up to see off Leeds and keep Arsenal on track

Gabriel Jesus scores Arsenal’s third goal against Leeds.
Gabriel Jesus scores Arsenal’s third goal against Leeds. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The marvel of this comfortable, ultimately emphatic victory for Arsenal was its sheer mundanity. They were smooth enough, scored four goals and could have added more, but if they navigate the next two months successfully it would be some feat to recall the highlights of Leeds’s visit in minute detail.

That, in itself, tends to be the sign of a team’s transition into title winners. Arsenal have rolled through their past three top-flight games, winning them all serenely but patently leaving something in reserve.

Once they had shaken off a scratchy opening half-hour and put their noses in front, the outcome was in no serious doubt. It became an exercise in keeping confidence high: Gabriel Jesus certainly gave his own a fillip, scoring his first goals since 1 October. The second of them was set up by Leandro Trossard, who has now made seven assists in 11 Premier League games since arriving in January to help Arsenal over the line.

Mikel Arteta had been given a number of fitness problems to conjure with over the international break, but his side made light of them. “There’s always a question about how the players will react after that,” he said.

“They were exceptional, they were really at it, everybody wanted to be involved. We won the game in a convincing way, which is the only thing that we can control.”

This had borne the appearance of a potential banana skin after Manchester City had emphatically put the onus back on Arsenal and when Rasmus Kristensen made Aaron Ramsdale save sharply after seven seconds it was clear Leeds had come to ask questions. It would not have been Arsenal’s only concession virtually from kick-off in the past month.

They were off beam early on, in a more pensive atmosphere than has become the norm here; Ramsdale was worked again, first by Crysencio Summerville and then Jack Harrison, parrying the latter’s fierce effort. After a third of the game, their performance was meandering.

Granit Xhaka revels in the adulation of the Arsenal crowd after putting his side 4-1 up against Leeds.
Granit Xhaka revels in the adulation of the Arsenal crowd after putting his side 4-1 up against Leeds. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

It did not appear to help that Bukayo Saka had missed training through illness, making a vanishingly rare appearance on the bench. Jesus was pitched in for his first league start since returning from injury and a little rust seemed evident when, with Arsenal’s only noteworthy chance of the early stages, he headed Granit Xhaka’s cross too high despite being unattended.

Jesus is a relentless customer, though, and carved out the opener at a time when little was coming easily. He checked inside Kristensen and outside Luke Ayling, who had gone to ground near the left byline; the latter made enough contact to fell Jesus and concede a penalty that, although relatively soft, was the logical consequence of his rash defending.

Up stepped Jesus, once Leeds’s lengthy complaints had been dismissed, and he beat Illan Meslier easily. That was essentially that: Arsenal could grow into themselves and Leeds, all scampering energy until then, were noticeably dulled. They were not breached again before the interval, but were out of the game two minutes into the second half.

Again Ayling might have offered more effective resistance, seeing Gabriel Martinelli run at and virtually through him. Martinelli’s subsequent cross was a peach: barely defendable as it snaked low, right-footed, around the defence and to the far post.

Ben White does not, as he reminded everyone afterwards, watch football, but he saw this delivery all the way and crashed in off the bar from five yards.

“He’s timing those runs really well,” Arteta said. “He had some issues in the last few days, but he’s a big fighter and he wanted to be here.”

From there it was a question of how many Arsenal, who begin a run of outwardly trickier assignments at Anfield next Sunday, would cut loose by. They quickly added another goal, Jesus feeding Trossard and then making his way into the area in order to convert his colleague’s cutback from six yards.

“Delighted for him,” Arteta said of the forward, whose renewed fitness and form feel significant. “He deserved the chance to start. He grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction.”

If Arsenal have an achilles heel it is that their defence is not always as resolute; this was hardly the worst fixture for William Saliba to sit out through injury but they were still frustrated to concede when Kristensen’s side-footer from 20 yards deflected off Oleksandr Zinchenko and beat Ramsdale.

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Arsenal still had the final say, as they tend to. Martin Ødegaard’s deep cross was inviting for Granit Xhaka, who had peeled off Ayling, to direct a header into Meslier’s top corner for his third goal in three club games. Any tension, though, had long gone.

“Just enjoy the moment we are in,” Arteta said when asked how Arsenal are managing the run-in. He said he takes more enjoyment from games these days. No wonder: Arsenal keep on purring.

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