As you were. Arsenal needed a trouble-free afternoon and, after a scratchy first third of this game, sailed home with the most comfortable three points they will earn all season. Any stumble would have looked all the more significant given the manner of Manchester City’s earlier successbut the outcome was in scant doubt from the moment Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring with a penalty 10 minutes before half-time. He would double his tally, in a timely return to scoring form, after a goal from Ben White; a reply from Rasmus Kristensen never felt consequential and was quickly followed by Granit Xhaka’s third goal in as many club games. Mikel Arteta can reflect that the first stage of a 10-game sprint was completed with little fuss.
The burning question was how Arsenal would handle playing straight after such a statement win from their closest rivals. It is that time of the season now: when the slightest slip contains agonies that may be felt for weeks. Therefore it did not seem like the moment for Arteta to face life without Bukayo Saka, but the Premier League’s best player since August was only fit for a place on the bench after missing training through illness. Saka had not failed to start a top-flight game since December 2021.
William Saliba was completely absent with injury and Arsenal’s defence were almost caught cold within seven seconds, Aaron Ramsdale tipping away Kristensen’s snap shot to his right. It was almost an advance on Bournemouth’s astonishing start here four weeks ago and signalled that Leeds, reshuffled by Javi Gracia into a hard-running 4-3-3 with no recognised striker, would seize the mettle when possible.
They were helped by a flat opening half-hour from Arsenal, who patently missed Saka and were as subdued as an uncharacteristically pensive Emirates crowd. Jesus should have scored in the 11th minute, found unmarked when Xhaka dug out a left-sided cross, but cleared Illan Meslier’s bar with his header. Gabriel Martinelli had an effort blocked early on but Leeds’ ventures forward carried the greater threat.
When Ramsdale made saves within a minute of each other from Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison, parrying the latter’s fierce drive from an angle, the anxiety ramped up a notch. Arsenal had not got going but it was not uncharacteristic of their opponents that, just as Leeds appeared to have contained them, a gift quickly fell their way.
Jesus checked inside and then out near the left byline and fell under the challenge of Luke Ayling, who was already on the floor when the Brazilian made contact with his leg. Darren England awarded a penalty and the decision was upheld despite appearing soft. Jesus appeared to seek the contact but Ayling had undoubtedly dived in rashly.
Up stepped Jesus after Leeds’s complaints had been dismissed and, converting his first goal since 1 October, he beat Meslier with no fuss. The away side had learned the hard way that you cannot slacken your focus against the best. Arsenal were settled: they might have scored a second before the interval when Meslier was caught out of his box and Ayling messily diverted Martinelli’s opportunistic 40-yarder behind.
There was a strong sense Leeds had missed their chance and they were finished off within two minutes of the restart. Ayling may reflect that he could have offered sterner opposition to Martinelli, who ran past and virtually through him on the left. A low, bending right-footed delivery snaked through to the far post where White, arriving at speed, smashed in off the bar from five yards.
Everyone present might have been happy to declare at that point. Leeds’s imminent run of three winnable home games will wield more influence upon their relegation battle; Arsenal are, after a relatively soft set of fixtures, about to find their assignments look harder on paper. But it would be worth their eating up as much of City’s superior goal difference as possible and, with Leeds completely out of the game now, a third followed quickly. Jesus fed Leandro Trossard and then made for the six-yard box while his teammate twisted, wriggled and centred low from the right. The subsequent finish was sharp and put the contest conclusively to bed.
Saka was, along with Jorginho, afforded the final half hour. A flicker from Leeds saw Ramsdale, ever alert, deny Brendan Aaronson from an angle before Kristensen spooned a reasonable opening high. The right-back turned midfielder would go one better when, after a somnolent spell, his side-footed strike from 20 yards deflected in off Oleksandr Zinchenko.
But Arsenal had the final say, as they tend to. Martin Ødegaard’s deep cross was inviting for Xhaka, who had peeled off Ayling, to direct into Meslier’s top corner. Arsenal had beaten Crystal Palace by this score before the international break and it was as if they had never been away.