The sight of Arsenal devoting much of the second half to taking every opportunity to waste as much time as possible emphasises precisely how hard Mikel Arteta’s side had to work to retain their place at the top of the Premier League.
A compelling, incident-packed game dominated by an amalgam of technology and controversy was settled by a gorgeous goal from Bukayo Saka but also saw Leeds’ Patrick Bamford have a goal disallowed and miss a penalty while Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhães had a late red card overturned following a clash with Jesse Marsch’s centre-forward.
The briefest of power cuts at Elland Road coincided with the originally scheduled 2pm kickoff and provoked all sorts of mayhem. So much so that, after only 23 seconds, play was halted and the teams taken off the pitch after it emerged that the referee, Chris Kavanagh, and his officials had a problem with their headsets.
It seems they had lost contact with their VAR and goalline technology feeds. A momentary flickering on and off of the lights in West Yorkshire had far-reaching repercussions with the match not re-starting for another 39 minutes. Happily it was worth the wait.
Arsenal emerged surprisingly ring-rusty and had reason for relief when, straight from the resumption, Luis Sinisterra sent a shot swerving inches wide of an upright. Presumably heeding this warning, Arteta’s side subsequently began to rediscover their familiar pass and move groove and Rasmus Kristensen was required to make an important block to prevent Gabriel Martinelli connecting with a volleyed chance conjured by Ben White’s cross.
Leeds are not easily daunted though and their willingness to press their opponents, hard and daringly high up the pitch on the counterattack not only succeeded in interrupting Arsenal’s flow but created a thrilling end-to-end contest.
Indeed Aaron Ramsdale was initially the busier goalkeeper during a first half which saw him do well to palm a Sinisterra shot to safety before denying Pascal Struijk at point-blank range from the subsequent corner.
Not that Illan Meslier could exactly rest easy. If the French goalkeeper felt reprieved after Saka met Martin Ødegaard’s backheel and sent a two yard chip arcing over the bar, he soon realised it had been merely a temporary stay of execution.
With Ødegaard once again the creator, Sako proceeded to beat Meslier courtesy of a truly fabulous shot lashed into the roof of the net from the most awkward of angles.
If that beautifully weighted finish represented a perfect definition of technical accomplishment, the ludicrously slapdash cross field pass from Rodrigo which gifted Arsenal possession was surely the epitome of carelessness.
That concentration lapse also seemed totally out of character for a forward who so often reads the game brilliantly but, not for the first time, looked out of position as Marsch’s lone striker. Indeed if Leeds had been able to field a proper centre-forward they might well have scored during that opening half.
Small wonder one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon greeted the sight of Bamford emerging to warm up as half-time beckoned. Bamford’s starting position on the bench suggested there must have been some sort of question mark over his fitness but Leeds were in desperate need of his incision and defender-destabilising movement.
Sure enough Bamford started the second period in place of Rodrigo. Moreover his first significant touch saw the striker swivel smartly, seamlessly chest the ball down and send a low volley flying beyond Ramsdale. Unfortunately for Leeds, in the process, he nudged Magalhães out of the way with a little too much vigour and that slight push on the Arsenal defender was sufficient to ensure that the “equaliser” was not to be.
Bamford soon got a second chance from the penalty spot but missed, shooting wide after the taking of that kick had been delayed by a bout of argy-bargy between opposing players after a VAR review confirmed that William Saliba had handled in the area.
As Bamford walked back towards the box to take the penalty Magalhães accompanied him, evidently having a few words in his ear. It was such a blatant attempt to put the Leeds No 9 off that indignant teammates protested and soon Kavanagh needed to separate warring players.
When Ramsdale guessed the right way and Bamford’s slightly overhit kick curved just outside the upright Marsch’s head went into his hands and Arsenal players queued up to shake Magalhães’s hand.
Magalhães proceeded to do well to block Sinisterra’s shot following some a smart manoeuvre on Brenden Aaronson’s part.
Leeds were excelling and winning all sorts of individual duels across the pitch but they remained behind and, with Arteta’s players taking every opportunity to wind down the clock, it stayed that way.
Not that there was a lack of drama along the way. No surprise it involved Bamford and Magalhães. When Bamford shoved the Brazilian in the box, Magalhães responded with an apparently sly retaliatory kick, prompting a dramatic collapse on the striker’s part. After consultation with a linesman Kavanagh awarded a penalty and waved a red card in the defender’s face but VAR overturned both decisions, downgrading Magalhães’s card to a yellow – leaving Arsenal free to breathe again.