Even when Arsenal were four goals to the good and seemingly out of sight, there remained a nagging feeling that more twists were to come. If there is one side in the Premier League that would push with unbreakable motivation to return from such a scenario, it is Leeds United. And if there is one side capable of blowing such an advantage, it is Arsenal.
Arsenal remain the only team in Premier League history to give away a 4-0 lead, in their infamous 4-4 draw at Newcastle United ten years ago. And there was a genuine sense here, when Leeds scored their second, that Mikel Arteta’s fragile but improving players could somehow repeat the feat of their predecessors.
Ultimately, such a disastrous outcome did not come to pass for the home side. Instead this brilliant match will be remembered for the action, the goals, the excitement and the hat-trick scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Arsenal captain is back to his best, and the possibilities that brings for Arsenal will be a source of genuine excitement for his manager.
Inevitably there will be more debate around Marcelo Bielsa’s approach to these matches. Leeds shipped six at Old Trafford and many thought they were naive. Maybe they are. Maybe they are just inconsistent. Really, though, who cares? This was another phenomenally engaging and breathless encounter in which they were involved. The more of these, the better.
Their man-to-man approach made it a battle of wills and individuals. For Arsenal, the superb Bukayo Saka was once again their creator-in-chief. There was also another fine showing from Emile Smith Rowe and a promising full debut for Martin Odegaard.
Arsenal could have had five or six, but they could also have conceded five or six too. Brazilian winger Raphinha was a constant threat for Leeds, who threatened throughout as Bielsa roared “again!” at his players over and over.
It was to the credit of Bielsa’s players that the final moments were defined by genuine tension and edginess. Bielsa even felt compelled to march over to Arteta’s technical area and speak to the Arsenal manager after an argument about whether Leeds should have put the ball out of play after Aubameyang went down with an injury.
There was no significant damage to the Arsenal captain, who was on his feet at the final whistle to collect the match ball. He played centrally here and was at his predatory best with the youthful trio of Saka (19), Smith Rowe (20) and Odegaard (22) all floating around behind him.
The Arsenal captain is an elite finisher but is not a player who can make goals on his own. He needs the right pass at the right time and for the first goal it came from Granit Xhaka, who found his striker in the left-hand channel, just outside the penalty area.
This truly is Aubameyang’s danger zone — he can go outside or inside, left foot or right. This time he went for the near post, catching Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier off balance as he reversed his finish inside the near post. It was classic Aubameyang and Arsenal were purring in these early moments.
Saka was relentless on the right flank, charging forward time after time, while even David Luiz was involved in the attacking. Only a phenomenal block by Luke Ayling prevented a second Aubameyang goal.
Saka was weaving at the Leeds defence whenever he could and the visitors had no answer to his dribbling and speed. Liam Cooper was saved by a Var review after bundling Saka to the ground in the box, but Meslier was not so fortunate. The Leeds goalkeeper was caught on the ball by Saka, and then clattered the Arsenal teenager in response.
Aubameyang buried the penalty and within a few moments it was three. After another Saka run, the ball was eventually worked out to Dani Ceballos, who slipped a gorgeously delicate, no-look pass into the path of Hector Bellerin. From close range, Bellerin slammed his finish inside Meslier’s near post.
The fourth came shortly after the break, when Helder Costa surrendered possession in his own half. Smith Rowe pounced and curled his cross to the far post, where Aubameyang had the simple task of heading home.
Pascal Struijk’s header, from Raphinha’s outswinging corner, gave Leeds a glimmer of hope where previously there was none. And suddenly, just like that, the gap had been reduced to two. Tyler Roberts darted in behind Bellerin and teed up Costa for a tap-in.
Now it was a contest again, and now it was nervy. Arsenal struck the woodwork twice, through Aubameyang and Saka, while Leeds pushed forward in desperation. It was not enough in the end, although in a strange way both sides could leave with pride at what they had produced.