Gabriel Jesus steps up as Arsenal’s talisman in Bukayo Saka’s absence as Gunners keep title bid on track
No Bukayo Saka, no problem - not when Arsenal have Gabriel Jesus leading the line.
The striker stepped up to the plate here against Leeds, scoring twice and firing Arsenal to a victory that keeps their title charge on track.
Manchester City had laid down a marker earlier on Saturday, beating Liverpool 4-1 to close the gap at the top to five points.
But Arsenal hit back by managing the same scoreline against Leeds and restoring their eight-point lead. Now just nine games stand between them and a first title since 2004.
So often this season Saka has been Arsenal’s hero, but instead it was Jesus who was the Gunners’ saviour against Leeds. Before this match, he had gone 17 games for club and country without a goal, but like London buses two came along at once.
It was a timely performance by Jesus as this was by no means the Gunners’ best display of the season, but it will have pleased Arteta that they got the victory without Saka.
For the first time since December 2021, Arsenal were forced to start a Premier League game without the winger, who fell ill on Friday and missed training. He was only feeling well enough to make the bench 24 hours later.
That, and City’s emphatic win over Liverpool, seemed to contribute to Arsenal’s slow start and it was instead Leeds who had the best of the opening 30 minutes. The right side of Arsenal was not clicking and both Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison had good chances down that channel.
It was little wonder Mikel Arteta’s side were struggling without Saka, who has taken his game to another level this season. He is the first Arsenal player in double figures for both goals and assists in a Premier League campaign since Alexis Sanchez in 2016-17, and the only player to have done so in the competition this season.
In his absence, Arsenal’s right side initially struggled to function and Ben White and Leandro Trossard’s display summed up the side’s disjointed start.
Their nerves, and everyone’s inside the Emirates Stadium, were settled though when Leeds gifted Arsenal the lead.
Luke Ayling clumsily brought down Jesus in the box and the striker stepped up to score the penalty. After 35 cagey minutes, Arsenal were ahead and you could almost see the weight of pressure lift off their shoulders.
They started the second-half in perfect fashion and suddenly the right hand side, which had struggled in the opening 45 minutes, was purring.
Gabriel Martinelli skipped past Ayling and his cross dissected everyone to allow Ben White to steal in at the back-post. That goal came two minutes after the break and eight later it was 3-0 and game over. This time Trossard was the creator, spinning his man and picking out Jesus after the Brazilian had started the move by playing him the ball.
Rasmus Kristensen pulled one back for Leeds with just under 15 minutes to go, but it proved nothing more than a consolation.
Indeed, any nerves were swiftly settled as Arsenal got a fourth. Martin Odegaard, who like so many had struggled in the first-half, picked out Granit Xhaka with a stunning pass and the Swiss headed home for his fourth goal in his last five games.