How Gabriel Jesus proved to be the catalyst as Arsenal restore eight-point lead at top of the table
Sam Dean at the Emirates
Since his last goal for Arsenal, Gabriel Jesus had endured six months, 17 matches, one knee surgery and countless hours of painful rehabilitation before he found himself 12 yards out from goal here, the ball on the penalty spot and only Illan Meslier, the Leeds United goalkeeper, in his path.
One swing of his right foot later, and Jesus was officially back. His first goal since early October, on his first league start since mid-November, and in that moment of celebration there must have been considerable relief, along with all of the usual delights that come with finding the net for your team.
Only Jesus can explain whether he felt truly liberated by that first goal, converted after 35 minutes of action, but it certainly looked like it. The Brazilian had been a little loose prior to that opener, heading over the bar when he should have done better, but a different player — a different animal — emerged as soon as his name was on the scoresheet.
By the time he left the field, after 60 minutes of play, Jesus had two goals to his name and Arsenal had another three points on the table. His second goal, Arsenal’s third, effectively ended this match as a competitive meeting, and ensured that Mikel Arteta’s side restored their eight-point lead over Manchester City.
For around 30 minutes of action, starting with the move for the penalty and ending when he was substituted, Jesus offered all of the energy, invention and intensity that Arsenal fans had come to expect in the first half of this season, following his move from City.
On the ball, Jesus floated around midfield and the final third, swapping positions with Arsenal’s wingers and joining the passing networks in midfield. Off the ball, he lunged and lurched around the pitch, closing down Leeds defenders and sliding into tackles. One challenge, down by his own corner flag, prompted a standing ovation from the home crowd. “Everyone is playing so well,” he said afterwards. “It is easy to come back.”
It is testament to Arsenal’s strength as a team that the lengthy absence of Jesus did not derail their title charge over the past few months. This, clearly, is no one-man team. But there is also no doubt that Jesus makes them better, adding a different physicality and flexibility to the front line.
“He has been working so hard for the last four or five months with a lot of support from the team and the staff,” said Arteta of Jesus. “Today he deserved the chance to start. He grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction.”
His creativity in tight spaces, too, is a game-changing quality against deep-lying defences. Opposition teams like to pack the penalty box against Arsenal, but Jesus is a player who is capable of finding his way through the smallest of gaps. He showed as much in winning the penalty in the first half, when he danced beyond Rasmus Kristensen and then tricked Luke Ayling into making a silly tackle inside the box.
The subsequent penalty, stroked down the middle after a stuttering run-up, appeared nerveless. “Zini [Oleksandr Zinchenko] joked with me yesterday, because we were practising penalties and I just took that one like I always do, stopping,” said Jesus. “He said 'in the game, you never do it like this', so I showed him clips. I was calm.”
The 25-year-old’s replacement for much of this season has been Eddie Nketiah, who performed admirably but plays as a more traditional striker. In the Premier League this season, Nketiah has averaged 39 touches of the ball for every 90 minutes of action. In just 60 minutes here, Jesus touched the ball 48 times.
The most important of those touches came in the 55th minute, when Jesus combined beautifully with Leandro Trossard to score Arsenal’s third. It was another demonstration of the fluidity he brings to Arteta’s attack, as he drifted to the right before exchanging passes with Trossard, who had moved inside.
Trossard’s assist was his seventh in the league for Arsenal, despite only joining the club in January. More importantly, the Belgian’s performance proved that this team can still thrive without Bukayo Saka, who dropped to the bench as a result of illness in the week.
It was the first time since December 2021 that Arsenal had started a league match without their star academy graduate. They will hope not to do so again this season, but the fear of losing Saka will not be quite so pronounced now.
Was Trossard’s impact beyond Arteta’s wildest dreams? “I have very wild dreams,” the Arsenal manager responded, smiling. “But seriously, we knew what he could bring to the team. He can play on the right, on the left, he can play as a midfielder and he can be a false nine. He is really contributing to the team. We love him.”
Even though Jesus returned to goalscoring ways, it will be a source of comfort for Arsenal supporters that the team is not reliant upon him to deliver the key moments. Ben White and Granit Xhaka also found the net against Javi Gracia’s disciplined but limited Leeds side, with Xhaka extending his scoring run to four goals in five matches for club and country. Leeds struck a consolation goal, through Kristensen, but by then the game was settled.
It was Xhaka’s name echoing around the Emirates Stadium at full-time but there was no doubt that the afternoon belonged to Jesus. In the dressing room after the final whistle, Arteta said, he was clapped by his team-mates and coaches. A deserved ovation, for a player who might yet prove to be the decisive man in the race for the league title.
Arsenal restore eight-point lead, Leeds slip to 16th
Full time: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
It turned into a comfortable victory in the end after a good opening spell from Leeds. But quality told in the end and Arsenal ran out very worthy winners.
90+3 min: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
Vieira takes a free-kick from the left given for Ayling's hand ball that Leeds usher out for a corner.
90+1 min: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
Bamford is booked for a late on on Jorginho. Four minutes of added time go up on the board.
89 min: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
Bamford is penalised for a push on Gabriel who goes down like a bag of spanners.
87 min: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
Leeds send on Bamford for Harrison.
86 min: Arsenal 4 Leeds 1
Tierney ⇢ Zinchenko
Smith Rowe ⇢ Odegaard
Vieira ⇢ Xhaka
Arsenal 4 Leeds 1 (Xhaka) Saka is the honey that attracts four Leeds defenders out of position on the right before laying it back for Odegaard who clips a lovely diagonal to the left of the spot and Xhaka buries his header.
80 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 1
An Ayling flop earns a free-kick off Martinelli.
78 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 1
Mistake from Roca with a misplaced pass lets Odegaard in to drive into the box but Cooper telescopes out a leg to knock it away before he can shoot.
Arsenal 3 Leeds 1 (Kristensen) Harrison weaves his way into the box from the left and clips a pass towards the penalty spot that Xhaka tries to flick away. Kristensen, who scored in the last match, hits a right-foot shot with his instep that Ramsdale would have gobbled up but it hit Zinchenko and spun into the bottom left corner.
74 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Two more Leeds substitutions:
Cooper ⇢ Koch
Rutter ⇢ Summerville.
72 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Arsenal are in cruise control and their fans are revelling in a comfortable lead and the prospect of restoring their eight-point lead.
70 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Harrison flashes a menacing cross through the Arsenal six-yard box. No one there.
68 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
White times one tackle to perfection to stop Summerville but then trips him as Summerville barrelled away after bouncing off him.
66 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Double Leeds substitution:
Rodrigo ⇢ Aaronson
McKennie ⇢ Sinisterra.
65 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Kristensen blazes a left-foot shot over from 12 yards after decent work from Aaronson down the left to set him up.
64 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Ramsdale races off his line to stop Aaronson's chip from the right and six yards out with his shoulder. Good goalkeeping. Leeds have been OK in patches.
62 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Meslier flap sat the corner but Leeds scramble it away and the referee fails to book Zinchenko for a tactical foul that almost put Firpo clear.
60 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Trossard is now central but drifts out to the left to earn a corner despite a heavy first touch.
58 min: Arsenal 3 Leeds 0
Double Arsenal substitution:
Jorginho ⇢ Partey
Saka ⇢ Gabriel Jesus
Arsenal 3 Leeds 0 (Gabriel Jesus) Gabriel Jesus fires a pass into Trossard by the right of the D. he takes a touch that sends him to the right of the box and then he reverses a pass back towards the penalty spot where Gabriel Jesus arrives to stab in a low shot.
52 min: Arsenal 2 Leeds 0
Leeds' set pieces have been poor and Aaronson floats another one out of play after Gabriel Jesus' foul on him.
52 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Trossard pulls back Roca and Leeds have free-kick from which they attack up the left then switch to the right. Gabriel Jesus races back to cover but Martinelli is given a very soft free-kick when he goes sprawling after Sinisterra wins the ball off him after a heavy first touch.
49 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Martinelli drives up the left, flooding into space but Ayling recovers to cut out the lay-back.
Arsenal 2 Leeds 0 (White) Steals in at the far post to score from three yards but almost misses it, hitting the bar. Harrison let him go and responds by putting his head in his hands. Se up by Martinelli's cross after neat work from Zinchenko.
46 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Arsenal kick-off. No changes. They knock it all the way back to Ramsdale who walks 20 yards out of his goal to chip a pass up the right from which Arsenal are caught offside.
I could not recommend this strongly enough
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Half-time: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Hardly vintage Arsenal but they have the lead and, although Leeds subdued them for a good half hour, they look far more comfortable now.
45+4 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Gabriel Jesus is the latest to hit the deck, this time after a tackle by Kristensen on halfway.
45+3 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Summerville shields the ball well from Holding but the space is too tight by the byline and he is bundled out with the ball. Goal kick.
45+2 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Gabriel Jesus is caught offside from the free-kick.
45+1 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Three minutes of stoppage time are signalled. Martinelli needs prolonged treatment after Koch caught him on the top of his foot.
44 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
After a two-minute break, we get back underway with drop ball and Leeds attack up the right. Arsenal win the ball back and Koch trips Martinelli on halfway after he pushed the ball past him and was about to hit top gear.
42 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Odegaard requires treatment after Firpo catches him on his toe. Arteta calls his players over for a pow-wow.
40 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Arsenal counter after defending a Leeds free-kick. Meslier comes out of the area like he did against Wolves and makes a hash of his clearance. Martinelli strikes a volley back towards the empty net from 30 yards and Ayling scrambles it behind but almost gets his boots in a tangle trying to do it.
38 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
End to end stuff as first Summerville turns White and juts fails to set up Roca for a shot from 18 yards and then Xhaka sparks a rapid counter with a fine pass but Koch and Struijk block efforts from Jesus and Martinelli's follow up.
Sam Dean reports from the Emirates
A first goal since October for Gabriel Jesus, who showed great skill and balance to win the penalty. The Brazilian is not the most deadly finisher but his creativity and skill in tight spaces is one of the reasons he is so important to this Arsenal attack.
36 min: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0
Leeds have been the better side, make a mistake and fall one behind. Story of their season.
Arsenal 1 Leeds 0 (Gabriel Jesus, pen) Hitches his run-up and waits for Meslier to go to his right and then slots it down the middle.
Being checked by VAR. Ayling slid in for a tackle and caught Jesus on the knee long after the ball had gone, his momentum carrying him through. VAR gives it.
32 min: Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Summerville has White on toast again, shimmying in and out, and then slips a pass out t his left for Harrison who thunders a shot that Ramsdale slaps away at the near post.
31 min: Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Leeds peel off the passes in triangles down the left between Summerville, Harrison and Firpo. And then Summerville drives in from the touchline, pings a one-two with Roca that puts him a yard to Holding's left and a clear shooting chance but he scuffs it low and straight at Ramsdale.
29 min: Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Roca is playing like an old-fashioned leftt-half, slipping in alongside Koch and, so far, smothering attacks then pinging off passes to try to initiate some for Leeds.
27 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Arsenal haven't found their usual home rhythm and pace of pass. A pair of passes from Zinchenko don't find their target and Leeds have a throw on the right.
25 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Partey protests when Roca is given a free-kick for his trip. There's no doubt that Leeds have silenced the crowd somewhat with their bright start. Whatever the result, Javi Gracia hs certainly introduced a method and organisation that Leeds had been lacking for a year.
23 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Summerville makes 30 yards up the left, lays it off for Aaronson to cross and Arsenal make a mess of the clearance but it didn't matter as Sinisterra was judged to e offside as he tried to pounce on the bungled touch. Not sure he was.
22 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
White is clipped across the ankles after flying into a tackle on Summerville. Arsenal free-kick.
21 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Meslier comes out to claim Holding's long, floaty diagonal. Leeds make good progress down the left and earn a throw-in off White's shins.
19min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Odegaard's fre-kick eludes everyone and bobbles out for a goal-kick as Meslier makes the 'leave it' gesture, waving both arms at waist-height.
18 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Arsenal box Sinisterra into the right-back position as he tries to help Ayling out but he manages to wriggle free and strike a clearance up the right. But there's no one there for Leeds and back come Arsenal with Gabriel and he earns a free-kcik 40 yards out.
16 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Arsenal's passing hasn't been precise enough so far and Trossard has given the ball away cheaply twice.
14 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Leeds free-kick on the right. Aaronson whips it in, Koch gets free but again it's just too far ahead of him for optimum contact. Sloppy marking from both sides.
13 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Gabriel Jesus misses a good chance, drifting in between Firpo and Struijk after Harrison lost the ball in midfield. Xhaka whips over the cross that was a fraction too high for optimum contact and Jesus can only steer his free header over.
11 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Gabriel Jesus and Martinelli are alternating on the left and through the middle. Leeds have a spell of probing possession as Arsenal drop deep. Ultimately Arsenal's patience pays off and Kristensen's pass is picked off.
9 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Leeds already slowing it down, Firpo taking an age over a throw which eh promptly loses but Meslier is quick to grab Martinelli's short cross.
7 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Odegaard's loose pass is picked off by Summerville who drives forward and tacks to the right from centre. White comes all the way over from left-back to first stall him and then tackle him.
5 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Actually Kristensen seems to me to be more in midfield when Leeds don't have the ball. Summerville is left, Sinisterra right and Aaronson as a kind of false nine.
3 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
White is starting incidentally. Xhaka is down after bumping Ayling and bruising one of his knees with the other. He's OK. Leeds are playing with five at the back, Kristensen and Firpo as wing-backs, Ayling tucked in.
1 min : Arsenal 0 Leeds 0
Leeds pour down the right from the kickoff in a tribute to Bournemouth and Krsitensen absolutely leathers a right-foot shot that Ramsdale saves low to his right after Zinchenko's slip let Sinisterra in.
Arsenal break straightaway and make progress down the middle, Struijk and Koch just doing enough to block Gabriel Jesus's shot.
The teams are out
Arsenal in their home kit, Leeds in their tribute to Stilton.
Leeds' starting XI
All about legs and the desire to hit Arsenal on the break. Kristensen may make it five at the back or be used in midfield to help Ayling with his pal, Martinelli. Hard to say which way Leeds will go at the start.
Sam Dean has spotted a potential injury problem for Arsenal
This could be absolutely nothing but Ben White has left the warm-up before the other Arsenal players and walked down the tunnel with the club doctor. At this stage there can be no telling what's happened. Might be something as simple as him requiring more strapping. Who knows? But if it is a problem, that is a significant issue for Arsenal, who are already without backup right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu because of a knee injury.
The reason for Saka's absence
Arsenal have confirmed the winger was feeling unwell and did not train yesterday. Neither Gabriel Martinelli nor Gabriel Jesus were away with Brazil during the break, and Jesus makes his first Premier League start since before the World Cup.
The two teams
Team news! 📣
Bukayo Saka drops to the bench
Arsenal 🆚 Leeds United#TelegraphFootball | #ARSLEE pic.twitter.com/IBzjl5c86L
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Preview: Impregnable Emirates for Leeds?
Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of Arsenal vs Leeds United from the Emirates where the visitors have never won, losing five times and drawing once on their trips in league and Cup since the Gunners moved from Highbury. It was a curious game last season. Leeds were battered in the first half and went down to 10 men when Luke Ayling, frustrated by Gabriel Martinelli's skinning of him, got himself sent off after 27 minutes with his side 2-0 down. But Arsenal failed to press down their advantage and though Leeds barely improved, they clawed one back and could/should have stolen a point with Rodrigo's late header.
During the match at Elland Road earlier this season which featured a 40-minute hiatus for VAR to be rebooted, Leeds actually rattled Arsenal in the second half after Rodrigo had made a gift of a goal to Bukayo Saka with the hospital pass of all hospital passes. Patrick Bamford missed a penalty and another very good chance to equalise and VAR rose from the dead to chalk off a stoppage-time penalty awarded to the home side for a Bamford collision with Gabriel that the Leeds centre-forward ultimately was deemed to have initiated.
So Leeds travel with some hope from recent performances ... and none at all given their record there – and Arsenal's recent show of resilience and brilliance since rallying against Aston villa to win 4-2 and start a run of six successive wins that has fortified their lead at the top of the Premier League and brought a first title for 19 years closer.
They will start today without Takehiro Tomiyasu, Mohamed Elneny Eddie Nketiah and William Saliba but Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney should be OK. Leeds lost their two best players since Christmas – Max Wöber and Willy Gnonto – to injury while on international duty, Tyler Adams is touch and go to return before the end of the season while Stuart Dallas and Adam Forshaw are still some way off.