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Before their 4-2 win over Leeds United on Sunday, Arsenal were suffering from a scoring attack.
In their previous three Premier League games against Aston Villa, Wolves and Manchester United, the Gunners had managed just one goal, despite amassing 41 shots and a 2.8 xG. This lack of avant-garde has haunted Mikel Arteta’s team for most of the season, but there was little evidence of it during his declaration of victory over the charges of Marcelo Bielsa.
So what explains Arsenal’s renewed offensive vigor? Well, looking at things simplistically, the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was key to his clinical presentation. After a period on the sidelines after a family emergency and a few substitute appearances to regain his fitness, he was restored to the starting eleven and had an excellent performance.
At the beginning of the first half he received a pass from Granit Xhaka on the left wing. Facing former gunner Luke Ayling, Aubameyang took out a couple of velvety steps and cut inside before fooling Illan Meslier with a cross shot. It was the end of a player in top form, not one who has only scored twice since Christmas.
Things soon got even better for Aubameyang, when he scored a penalty just before the break. Minutes after the break he completed his hat trick, clinging to Emile Smith Rowe’s cross shot with a wonderfully old-school dive header off the back post.
Surprisingly, his three goals represented his first hat trick in the Premier League and his return to the scoreboard will be a huge boost both personally and for his team. Much has been written about Aubameyang’s struggles in front of goal since he ‘signed a date’, but his trio against Leeds puts him in double figures in all competitions.
His return to form wasn’t the only reason Arsenal fans got excited after Sunday’s game. The rest of the Gunners’ four youth forwards also put on performances to be proud of. The club’s lord and savior, Bukayo Saka, stood out as always, playing an important role in his team’s second and third goals.
His role in the latter was particularly joyous. Receiving a pass on the right wing, Saka taped the ball to his foot and wandered the width of the penalty area, ignoring swarms of opposition defenders with icy composure. Finally, he decided to let his teammates join in the fun and seconds later, Hector Bellerin had crashed into the nearby post.
His low-sock partner Smith-Rowe reinforced his application for ‘English offensive midfielders who must also go to the Euro club’, taking up some excellent positions with their backs to goal and also turning behind to keep opponents in their girl.
He wove it all together with newcomer Martin Odegaard. The Norwegian will undoubtedly have better games in a red jersey, but he still offered glimpses of his mercurial talent with some clever moves and feints, as well as some test passes.
Plus, Arteta didn’t even think about using Gabriel Martinelli or Nicolas Pepe on Sunday, testament to his team’s depth in the forward department.
Until now, it had been far from a vintage season for Arsenal. However, with Aubameyang back between goals and the supporting cast around him capable of some eminently visible moments, Gunners fans could enjoy some sexy football and, more importantly, some great results before the campaign comes to an end.