Arsenal's new love story: Aubameyang the big winner as young playmakers leave Leeds in a daze
The Gunners skipper scored a hat-trick as Mikel Arteta's side put on Valentine's Day showing that will have warmed the hearts of their supporters
There was never any doubt.
People may have debated about the supposed demise of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this season, but no-one at Arsenal believed for a second that their captain’s best days had been and gone.
On Sunday, he gave a timely reminder to all of his doubters outside of north London that if he is given the chances in front of goal, he will take them.
Aubameyang was at his lethal best against Leeds, scoring his first ever Premier League hat-trick as Arsenal bounced back from two successive defeats in the Premier League with a 4-2 victory.
Mikel Arteta’s side were exceptional in the first half, with the attacking trio of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe ripping Marcelo Bielsa’s side to pieces with their pace and movement in the final third.
This was Odegaard’s first start since his loan move from Real Madrid and he slotted in seamlessly in the No.10 role, with Saka and Smith Rowe either side.
One of the main criticisms of Arsenal this season has centred around how static they have been when they go forward. A lack of movement and creativity has made them easy to play against.
But for the first 45 minutes they were the exact opposite. Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard were exceptional and Leeds had no answer.
It was a real throwback to the days of Arsene Wenger, when he would pack his midfield with players such as Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, who in turn were given license to express themselves and supply the strikers.
Aubameyang was the beneficiary here and he took full advantage, scoring twice in the first half and adding a third soon after half-time.
The Gabon international now has 11 goals in 23 games this season. While that may not be up to his usual standards, for the majority of those appearances he was consistently starved of any meaningful service.
Since December 16, however, he has scored seven goals in nine games, and with the likes of Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard behind him, he is starting to look as prolific as usual.
He opened the scoring against Leeds with a classic Aubameyang goal, cutting in from the left and firing past Illan Meslier having been picked out by the excellent Granit Xhaka.
The Gunners skipper then added a second from the penalty spot after the sensational Saka had picked Meslier’s pocket in the penalty area and been tripped by the hapless Leeds keeper.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved and they closed out a dominant first half when Hector Bellerin got in on the act with a powerful drive following a wonderful team move to make it 3-0.
Things got even better for the home side just two minutes into the second half when Smith Rowe’s fabulous cross picked out Aubameyang, who completed his hat-trick with a diving header at the back post.
Leeds did threaten an unlikely comeback in the final half an hour thanks to goals from Pascal Strujik and Helder Costa, but by then the damage had been done, and the Gunners were unlucky not to extend then lead when Aubameyang crashed an effort against the post.
The two goals they conceded will have disappointed Arteta, but the Arsenal boss will have been very excited by some of the attacking play his young playmakers served up.
When Odegaard signed from Madrid, all the talk was about whether his arrival would stifle the development of Smith Rowe.
Arteta was always adamant they could play together and they proved their manager right with a performance which points to an exciting end to the season for Arsenal.
Sunday’s victory saw them move up to 10th in the Premier League and leaves them just six points behind Liverpool in fourth and five behind West Ham in sixth.
The prospect of a European spot looked a distant dream a few days before Christmas, but Arteta’s side have been given a fighting chance with their improved performances since beating Chelsea on Boxing Day.
Defeats against Wolves and Aston Villa showed there is still plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal, but there is no doubt they are on the right track again after some really difficult times during the first half of the season.
And with Aubameyang getting back to his best and Saka, Smith Rowe and Odegaard behind him, Arteta’s side have every right to feel excited about what could be to come.
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