Two sides scrapping for points at opposite ends of the Premier League table lock horns at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon as Arsenal play host to Leeds United.
The Gunners got the better of West Ham United 2-1 in their most recent battle, whereas Jesse Marsch’s men were thumped 4-0 by Manchester City at Elland Road.
Six years and a new hairline – the formula for Rob Holding’s first Premier League goal according to Aaron Ramsdale – as Arsenal’s centre-backs stepped up to steer their side to a third consecutive Premier League victory at the London Stadium over West Ham.
Drafted into the side to cover for the injured Ben White, Holding headed home his maiden Premier League goal before Jarrod Bowen restored parity not long after, but the Gabriel Martinelli-Gabriel Magalhaes combination allowed the latter to fire his own header past Lukasz Fabianski in the second period.
As Mikel Arteta – who has just signed a new deal with the club until 2025 – honestly admitted, the manner of Arsenal’s victory was certainly “ugly”, but consecutive wins over West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester United means that fourth spot is still in Arsenal’s hands as they sit two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, who could temporarily rise into the Champions League places with a shock win at Liverpool.
Furthermore, Chelsea’s own struggles has seen Arsenal cut the gap to their third-placed adversaries to just three points, but while they have averaged three goals per game in their recent hot streak, it is now six Premier League fixtures without a clean sheet for the formerly steadfast Gunners defence.
Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey’s absences have of course had a large part to play in that, but Arsenal have only accumulated fewer points than Liverpool and Manchester City on home soil and cannot afford a hit to the confidence before the impending North London derby.
While the charismatic Jesse Marsch has Leeds in with a fighting chance of retaining their Premier League status for a third straight season, trying to outwit Pep Guardiola was a step too far for the American, as Man City ran riot at Elland Road.
Gabriel Jesus, Rodri, Fernandinho and Nathan Ake all helped themselves to goals as Leeds’ five-game unbeaten run in the Premier League game to an abrupt end, and their Premier League destiny is once again out of their own hands amid Everton’s revival.
As things stand, the Whites are clinging onto the safety of 17th spot but are only two points clear of the Toffees having played a game more – with Frank Lampard’s men taking on Leicester City at the same time as their meeting with Arsenal – and a daunting midweek clash with Chelsea also awaits Marsch’s side.
Shipping four to Man City sees Leeds enter their 35th game of the season having already conceded 72 league goals – the worst record in the division – but they will at least bring a three-game unbeaten run to the Emirates, keeping back-to-back clean sheets on capital territory against Watford and Crystal Palace in that time.
Marcelo Bielsa oversaw a 4-1 loss at the hands of Arsenal just before Christmas – the Gunners’ ninth victory from their last 11 clashes with Sunday’s visitors – and it has been 29 years since Leeds last kept a clean sheet on Arsenal’s turf in the league, and their defensive record certainly does not hint at the end of such a streak here.
Arsenal Premier League form:
Leeds United Premier League form:
We say: Arsenal 2-0 Leeds United
Arsenal were far from their best at the London Stadium and have fared worse against bottom-half sides than their top-half rivals in recent weeks, but facing the Premier League’s worst defensive side rocked by an injury to one of their stalwarts spells success for the Gunners.
Marsch’s side may fancy their chances against an Arsenal backline that is not watertight anymore, but the chance to potentially move five points clear of Spurs – unless something dramatic happens at Anfield – is one that the Gunners should not pass up.