Nketiah double proves just enough as Arsenal struggle to punish 10-man Leeds
Arsenal (2) 2 Nketiah 5, 10
Leeds United (0) 1 Llorente 66
Arsenal will head into Thursday’s North London derby with a four-point cushion after making hard work of dispatching 10-man Leeds.
Two goals in the opening 10 minutes from Eddie Nketiah – taking his season’s goal tally to nine – left the relegation-haunted visitors with a mountain to climb, which they then had to attempt without their lead sherpa when skipper Luke Ayling was red carded with the game not half an hour old.
Somehow, the Gunners almost squandered that seemingly impregnable position with some poor finishing and a lack of precision in trying to kill the game. And they almost paid for it when Rodrigo flicked a late header goalwards that did not quite beat Aaron Ramsdale.
Leeds did not help themselves by gifting the Gunners the softest of goals after just five minutes when keeper Illan Meslier – taking a routine backpass from Ayling – dithered near his own goal line and Nketiah pounced with a few big strides and lunge for the ball.
And just a few minutes later the lead doubled when Gabriel Martinelli scampered down the left and cut the ball back from the byline for Nketiah to sweep home first time with a low left foot shot.
It got much worse for Leeds on 27 minutes when Ayling was dismissed after a reckless two-footed lunge on Martinelli.
Referee Christopher Kavanagh initially showed a yellow to the Leeds skipper, but VAR prompted him to check the monitor and he was gone.
Because of his prolonged and vociferous haranguing, Raphinha received a yellow card in the aftermath of that decision as Leeds threatened to implode.
The unlucky Joe Geldhardt was hooked as Jesse Marsch introduced Pascal Struijk to plug the defensive gap left by Ayling’s exit. But that extra defensive ballast left Leeds even more toothless.
It was to their credit, though, that they weathered Arsenal’s dominance sufficiently to give themselves a sniff of hope when Diego Llorente bundled home at the far post when a corner had been flicked on at the near stick by the head of Junior Firpo.
Arsenal should never have endured the nervy finish they put themselves through, but they did not manage to open up Leeds sufficiently and did not look sharp enough in the final third.
At this stage, however, the points are everything.
Gunners: (4-3-3) Ramsdale – Tomiyasu, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric – Odegaard, Elneny, Xhaka – Saka (Pepe 68), Nketiah (Lacazette 90), Martinelli (Smith Rowe 77). Subs not used: Leno, Tavares, Sambi Lokonga, Oulad M’hand, Swanson, Patino
Leeds: (4-2-3-1) Meslier – Ayling, Llorente, Koch, Firpo – Klich (Bate h/t), Phillips – Raphinha (Rodrigo 60), James, Harrison – Gelhardt (Struijk 29). Subs not used: Klaesson, Hjelde, Cresswell, Greenwood, Shackleton, Gray