Arsenal 4-2 Leeds United
I said Premier League goals were all but guaranteed.
Certainly, few envisaged a second goalless draw in three months between the sides.
In the end, we were treated to six goals, a welcome return for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a contest which has summed up the seasons of both clubs thus far.
For Arsenal, a move back into the top half of the table after successive league defeats; for Leeds, another display of high-tempo attacking and kamikaze defending (although in fairness Arsenal scored all bar one of their five efforts on target); for the neutral, an afternoon of Premier League highlights.
Highlights of the game
As well as the return of Aubameyang to the starting XI, Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard made his first start for the Gunners with David Luiz and Bernd Leno back after suspensions, along with Dani Ceballos.
Leeds suffered a blow with Kalvin Phillips missing with a calf injury which meant a place in the line-up for Jamie Shackleton – the only change from the team that beat Crystal Palace last time out.
Head coach Marcelo Bielsa did at least have Patrick Bamford to lead the line, a player netting regularly after a career spent on the move and battling misconceptions about his background.
It was the main threat at the other end of the pitch who was going to be the star of the day, however, with Aubameyang taking just 13 minutes to bamboozle Luke Ayling before rifling the ball past Illan Meslier.
To their credit, Leeds did not let their heads drop and were very much in the game until two self-inflicted errors just before the break ended the match as a contest.
First Meslier hesitated from a back-pass and brought down young talent Bukayo Saka with Aubameyang converting the resultant penalty.
Then Saka and Aubameyang lined up and full-back Hector Bellerin beat Meslier at his near post –the visiting goalkeeper probably should have done better.
Arsenal won 5-0 the last time they hosted Leeds in the league back in 2004 and there were thoughts of a repeat when Aubameyang completed his hat-trick two minutes after the restart.
Again, the visitors did not cover themselves in glory, losing possession and allowing Emile Smith Rowe to cross for Aubameyang to head home.
I’d love to have seen the SBOTOP Premier League betting odds on a Leeds win at that point.
Of course, it did not happen but they did restore some pride with two goals of their own to end Arsenal’s bid to keep five successive home clean sheets for the first time since February 2014.
Pascal Struijk planted a header firmly past Leno and 11 minutes later substitute Helder Costa bravely slid in to further reduce the arrears.
Despite the two goas, Leeds never looked like securing a third consecutive Premier League away victory and Aubameyang rattled the bar as Arsenal were close to a fifth.
Once a rivalry with a history and a few incendiary encounters, most recently in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this never got heated with only two bookings all game.
It did sum up perfectly, though, much of what we need to know about their respective classes of 2021.
Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Aubameyang is one of only three players to score a hat-trick in three of the top five European leagues, along with Alexis Sánchez and Salomon Kalou.
He is the third player in Premier League history to score a hat-trick on Valentine’s Day after Matt Le Tissier v Liverpool in 1994 and Michael Owen v Sheffield Wednesday in 1998.
Aubameyang has scored in consecutive starts in the Premier League within a single season for the first time since last February (v Newcastle and Everton).
The Gunners are unbeaten against Leeds in the past nine meetings in all competitions (won seven, drawn two).
They are also unbeaten in their past 28 home league fixtures against promoted sides (won 24, drawn four).
Leeds have lost their last seven Premier League fixtures in London by an aggregate score of 22-4.
Leeds have both scored (40) and conceded (42) 40+ goals in just 23 Premier League games this season; only Tottenham in 2007-08 hit 40 goals for and against after fewer matches in the competition’s history (22 games).
Leeds have conceded 3+ first-half goals four times this season (also versus Man Utd, Liverpool and Palace), twice as many times as any other side.
Bielsa’s side have scored 24 and conceded 26 goals away from home in the top flight.
Arsenal have a doubleheader with perennial Portuguese favourites Benfica next in the Europa League with a home league match against leaders Man City thrown in the middle for good measure.
Leeds are at Wolves domestically on Friday night before welcoming Southampton to Elland Road the following Tuesday (February 23).
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