Player ratings and analysis as Gunners set up chance to seal Champions League at Spurs

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Eddie Nketiah strengthened Arsenal’s top-four ambitions while simultaneously pushing 10-man Leeds closer to the Premier League trapdoor as his brace secured a stuttering victory at Emirates Stadium.

With Tottenham drawing at Liverpool on Saturday evening, their north London rivals had the chance to move four points clear in the final Champions League place.

They just about managed it – Nketiah scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes in a 2-1 win against a side where he spent half an unhappy season on loan in the second tier.

Diego Llorente pulled one back for Leeds but they slipped into the bottom three following Everton’s win at Leicester.

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When on-field skipper Luke Ayling was sent off for a rash challenge on Gabriel Martinelli with still less than half an hour on the clock, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the away side.

Nketiah opened the scoring with five minutes gone, nipping in to finish following a heavy touch from Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.

He doubled up for the afternoon shortly afterwards, afforded the freedom of the penalty area to sweep home a low Martinelli cross.

Ayling, on his 500th club appearance, lost his head as he went in two-footed on Martinelli and was eventually given his marching orders after referee Chris Kavanagh watched a replay on his pitchside monitor.

Leeds were abject in the first half but Arsenal’s own inability to kill off the game threatened to derail their afternoon.

Llorente had already hooked the ball off his own line earlier in the game but was now on hand to score with the visitors’ first shot of the game and set up a nervy finish.

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Arsenal survived a late corner as Meslier went forward in the hopes of becoming the hero before substitute Rodrigo could not get enough on a header to trouble Aaron Ramsdale.

The home side eventually stumbled over the line with a win that takes them close to a Champions League return and leaves Leeds fighting for their lives.

Analysis

By i‘s chief sports correspondent Kevin Garside at the Emirates Stadium

In the foot slog for Champions League inclusion the numbers would appear to favor Arsenal, though the aggressive draw achieved by Tottenham at Liverpool might tempt some to make them favourites, especially with matches to come at home to Burnley and away at Norwich. In contrast Arsenal face an awkward trip to the reconstituted Newcastle before concluding at home to Everton.

Leeds were a goal down inside five minutes, two down in ten, falling behind to a big idea, an obsession almost, to see goalkeepers as outfield players and host to a pass under all circumstances. Illan Meslier is vulnerable to a fumble at any junction. Indeed, moments before his trousers were lowered he failed to gather a cross properly and was fortunate to gobble up the rebound. The awful moment that followed was more a collective failure though Meslier will carry the burden in his soul from him.

Following Everton’s accelerating revival at the King Power it looks increasingly like a straight fight between Leeds and Burnley to stay up. Leeds host Chelsea and Brighton before concluding at Brentford. Burnley go to Tottenham and Aston Villa and then face Newcastle at Elland Road on the final day. It is tempting to hedge in the direction of Burnley on the grounds that neither wins another point.

We must wait until the fourth week of May for all this to play out, further disturbing the game’s body clock. The warping of the seasons enforced by Covid continues next term with the advent of a December World Cup. And Arsene Wenger wants us to go every two years with the global pageant. The Premier League resumes in the first week in August as it is and won’t conclude until the final weekend of May 2023, assuming the world has not ended by then.

I knew this was not going to be easy, says Marsch

Marsch, who replaced Marcelo Biesla at Elland Road in February, now needs to turn things round in the final two games – starting with the visit of Chelsea on Wednesday night.

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“Our backs are against the wall. We are in the relegation zone but we have to fight for our lives,” he said.

“Obviously we are in a difficult situation. We have now lost two right-backs for the season in two matches. We have to regroup and figure out what we can do.

“When I came here two months ago I knew this was not going to be easy. The group has stayed strong. Our second-half performance highlights the character of the people we have here.

“The fans and the support at this club is unreal. We want to put a performance on the pitch that honors that support.

“I think we had a really bad start and dug a hole for ourselves which we didn’t need to. At half-time we talked about keeping our composure and treating the game like it was 0-0. That’s what we did.”

As Leeds battle to avoid a return to the Championship, Arsenal are now on the brink of Champions League qualification.

Victory at the home of north London rivals Tottenham on Thursday night would assure them of a top-four finish.

Mikel Arteta said his side “won ugly” at West Ham last week and this result was equally as unattractive – but now he is excited by the prospect of securing Champions League football.

“We are going to go for that match with the same enthusiasm that we always do but knowing that this can be a defining moment,” he said.

“It can be another layer of motivation for us to really go for it. I can’t wait for the game.

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“We have earned the right to play that game in that context. We started the season with nine or 10 players out and playing the best two teams in Europe.”

Having started the season with three successive defeats, leaving Arsenal bottom of the table as Spurs flew high at the top, the turnaround has been stark.

This win was a fourth in a row following the West Ham victory and successes over Manchester United and Chelsea – who now sit just a point clear of Arsenal in third place.

“We are finding ways to win matches,” added Arteta.

“You always have an opponent and the context changes throughout the game and you don’t expect to always be on top for 95 minutes. We are getting better and dealing with it because we are winning matches.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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