Aubameyang’s hat-trick sees Arsenal dispatch Leeds

Second-half fight back in vain as Mikel Arteta’s side move up to 10th in the league

Arsenal 4 Leeds 2

On the one hand, this was exactly how to beat an opponent at their own game. On the other, it looked rather like how Mikel Arteta would like Arsenal to be playing every week. They were relentless for the first hour here, smothering Leeds off the ball and dissecting them with a fizzing display of speed and invention on it.

That endeavour brought four goals and Arteta will be delighted that three of them came from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose hat-trick was his first in the Premier League and a far cry from the occasions on which he has cut an isolated, disconsolate figure this season. Hector Bellerín scored the other and, by the time Leeds discovered a semblance of their usual vigour, it was too late to undo the damage. Pascal Struijk and Hélder Costa gave the scoreline the knockabout look this fixture had promised but, in truth, they could depart with no complaints.

A high-scoring affair had seemed virtually inevitable given both sides were missing their midfield cerebrum, Thomas Partey and Kalvin Phillips, through injury. Mikel Arteta's team selection did little to disabuse anyone of the idea: his five changes included a first start for Martin Odegaard in the No 10 position and a recall to the centre-forward spot for Aubameyang.

The latter could not have paid more handsome dividends. Arsenal, their front four brimful of energy, pushed their opponents back from the start and their captain produced the goods within 13 minutes. They knew Leeds had to be matched in the running stakes but Aubameyang’s first goal had an added element of guile. A passing move gained tempo and menace when Emile Smith Rowe flipped a smart first-time ball to Granit Xhaka, the instruction clear that possession needed to be moved on equally quickly.

Xhaka promptly found Aubameyang, lurking in the inside-left position that facilitates most of his best work. The rest was out of the textbook from a player Arteta has been desperate to work back into form. Jinking inside before befuddling Luke Ayling and Liam Cooper with a couple of stepovers, he cut a clever finish past the Leeds centre-backs and inside the near post of the unsighted Illan Meslier.

Leeds had not summoned anything like their usual swarming tempo although, a minute before the opener, they had carved out the first half-chance when Patrick Bamford headed Jack Harrison's cross straight at Bernd Leno. Arsenal were denying them space and it did not help that Struijk offered none of the control usually provided by Phillips. They briefly threatened an equaliser when Harrison shot at Leno from an inviting position but would find the game put beyond them by half-time.

To Arsenal’s fury, Leeds were let off one penalty award when Stuart Attwell ran to his VAR monitor and decided, somewhat generously, to reverse his 34th-minute decision that Cooper had illegally leaned into Bukayo Saka. No matter: Saka was back five minutes later in a sequence that summed up the half. Meslier controlled a routine backpass but dithered instead of clearing and Saka, straight on top of him, nipped in. It did not take a video replay to prove Meslier clipped him, escaping further punishment because Saka was heading away from goal. Aubameyang did the rest from the spot.

A minute before the interval Saka, the heartbeat of this team, dribbled across the Leeds area to begin an intricate attack that ended with Dani Ceballos sliding the ball through to Bellerín. He finished from an angle and Arsenal’s superiority had its just reflection.

Marcelo Bielsa sought to contrive a turnaround by introducing Tyler Roberts and Costa. Within two minutes of the restart, though, Leeds were subjected to more of the same. They seemed to have dealt with a Saka surge through the middle but Costa was crowded out and then dispossessed by Smith Rowe. The youngster's cross, dug out to the far post where Aubameyang was waiting to nod in, was beautifully weighted and for Leeds it seemed a matter of keeping the score down.

Yet it is rarely quite that simple in these parts. Just before the hour Struijk got a run on David Luiz to powerfully head in a left-sided corner. The goal had hardly been signposted but it was a reminder that Arsenal are usually good for a moment of defensive inattention and, as Bielsa and his staff upped the volume from the sidelines, the pendulum swung for the first time. Raphinha dragged wide and then Costa changed the complexion of the final 20 minutes by clipping in from Roberts' left-sided centre.

Leeds could not inflict any further damage, though, and only the crossbar stopped Aubameyang scoring his fourth. He and Arsenal had already done more than enough. - Guardian

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