EMIRATES STADIUM — 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.
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.
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.
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 favour 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 juncture. 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.
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.