As Gabriel Jesus completed his brace to give Arsenal a three-goal lead against Leeds on Saturday afternoon, most people inside the Emirates thought it was game over.
Yet Mikel Arteta did not see it that way. He called over Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey and Ben White once the celebrations died down to dish out more instructions. Animated as ever, the Gunners boss was determined not to let his team’s standards drop late on.
That was proved by the introduction of Bukayo Saka shortly after the third goal. Arteta knew his talisman wasn’t 100 per cent fit due to illness, but he wasn’t willing to take any chances. He wanted the Premier League leaders to finish off their assured display.
Arteta’s decision to keep the pressure on proved to be wise when Leeds fought back into the game. The visitors boasted plenty of possession after Arsenal’s third goal and created chances, with Rasmus Kristensen blazing a glorious effort over the bar.
Arsenal fans ironically shouted “whey” as Kristensen, who forced Aaron Ramsdale into a save during the opening minute of the game, failed to find the target – but Arteta was furious. He threw his hands into the air and started pointing at his defence in frustration.
Arteta’s determination to stop his title-chasing stars from getting carried away was obvious during his pre-match press conference on Friday. When asked about Saka’s dazzling displays this season, Arteta said, “We always have a stick ready, don’t worry.”
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Moments after his miss, Kristensen got another chance… and this time he didn’t waste it. The Dane controlled his shot and got a slice of luck when the ball took a deflection off Oleksandr Zinchenko and went in. All eyes were on Arteta, but his reaction was surprising.
Rather than hammer his players, Arteta turned away and took a moment to himself before reacting. He then started clapping towards the dugout and the fans behind him to encourage the troops. Arsenal supporters responded with cries of, “Come on!”
Arteta’s contrasting emotions were fascinating. When his players seemed in danger of conceding, he hassled them; urging for their standards not to drop. Yet when Arsenal did eventually concede, he tried to encourage them; perhaps realising their disappointment.
Arteta’s decision to bring on Saka was vindicated minutes later. In trademark fashion, Saka glided down the right flank before cutting inside and finding Martin Odegaard in space. The skipper then picked out Xhaka in the box before the Swiss star headed home.
As Xhaka capped off another superb display at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, Arteta started punching the air in delight. He knew, with minutes remaining in the game, his side were almost over the line. He didn’t rest on his laurels, though, making a double change.
Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney – two of Arsenal’s most popular players – were brought on to fresh up the side. A quiet end to the game followed, leaving Arteta and his players to celebrate a 4-1 triumph and take another step towards a first title in 19 years.