It was a tale of fine margins as Leeds United were left frustrated as a resilient Arsenal performance limited the Yorkshire team to a point, despite them hitting the woodwork three times.
Both teams came into this game desperate for a win, with Leeds looking to arrest a slide down the table that had seen them drop down to 15th place before kick-off, and Arsenal trying to recover form following a run of three defeats in four games leading up to the international break.
Both teams were forced into changes, with Arsenal missing key players Thomas Partey and Mo Elneny through injury whilst Leeds welcomed key players Kalvin Phillips and Rodrigo back into the first-team fold. There was a first start also for Leeds new boy Raphinha, who made the big money transfer from Rennes over the summer and would be looking to cement his place in Marcelo Bielsa’s lineup as he replaced Helder Costa.
The game started slowly, with both teams struggling to get back into the flow of things following the international interruption of the Premier League campaign. Raphinha tried to make an instant impact, unleashing an admirably ambitious strike from the 35-yard line that sailed high and wide of the net, but there were no clear chances for either side in the opening exchanges.
As the teams settled into the game, it became more end-to-end. Patrick Bamford had a chance from eight yards as Jack Harrison and Gianni Alioski combined well down the left, but Leed’s top scorer could only prod it towards Bernd Leno in the Arsenal net.
At the other end there was little to worry about, Arsenal struggled to work clear chances and the closest they came to scoring in the first period was with a mis-hit Pepe cross that rebounded off the crossbar.
The game became more and more cagey as the half progressed, Raphinha was given another opportunity from distance that he couldn’t quite direct towards the goal, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had an opportunity from a narrow angle that he couldn’t keep down.
Leeds kept growing into the game though and ended the first half as the stronger team as a strong showing down the Leeds left saw strong chances created before the whistle was blown for the break. Stuart Dallas had an opportunity on the half volley after arriving late into the box that he couldn’t keep on target. Mateusz Klich then was played in by Jack Harrison but the Pole blazed his left-footed shot over the bar from 18 yards.
The last chance of the half however fell to Pepe as, after countering from a Leeds free-kick, the Ivory Coast international cut in from the right and curled a left-footed shot just wide of the Leeds goal.
After half-time, Mikel Arteta tried to turn things around by hooking the ineffective Willian for Reiss Nelson and Arsenal did seem to be improving, but then a moment of idiocy from Nicholas Pepe saw him headbutt Leeds’ Alioski following an off-the-ball clash. Referee Anthony Taylor checked the VAR monitor and it took him no time at all to send the Arsenal winger to the changing room.
From that point onwards it was Leeds’ game. Stuart Dallas, playing in midfield rather than his usual full-back role, worked a great opportunity onto his left and unleashed a powerful shot towards the Arsenal goal that required some brilliant goalkeeping from Leno to keep out.
More chances came, Luke Ayling worked his way free on the penalty spot only for his touch to desert him at the last moment. Patrick Bamford put a header just wide from a good Raphinha cross and Rodrigo, who came on for Ayling in the 70th minute took a shot from distance that inched past the post.
Arsenal had a few opportunities on the break, most of them involving the dynamic Bukayo Saka who, after replacing Joe Willock in the 57th minute, was the bright spark for Arsenal. He had a cross destined for the foot of Aubameyang well-intercepted by Liam Cooper, and was left frustrated when a moment of brilliance from Illan Meslier denied him a goal.
Still though the pressure mounted from The Peacocks, wave and wave of attack pressed Arsenal back into their own box, and still Leeds came. Rodrigo launched another strike from the edge of the box, this one cannoning off the bar in what would then be the story of the last 20 minutes for Leeds.
Young Ian Poveda, who came on for Jack Harrison, delivered brilliantly onto the head of Patrick Bamford and the shot bounced onto the near post. The final chance of the game fell to the sprightly Raphinha, who had been in a thorn in the side of Arsenal since the beginning. Finding himself free six yards from goal following a glancing touch from Rodrigo, the winger couldn’t direct his shot on target and it cannoned off the post.
So it was points shared at Elland Road and it will be the travelling team that go home the happier. A great many positives for the Whites as they look forward to their trip to Everton, a much needed clean sheet included and they’ll be cautiously optimistic for the future now.
Meslier – 8
Ayling – 7
Koch – 7
Cooper – 7
Alioski – 8
Phillips – 8
Raphinha – 8
Dallas – 7
Klich – 7
Harrison – 7
Bamford – 7
Rodrigo – 7
Poveda – 6