Goal-shy Arsenal and Nicolas Pepe get rattled against Leeds United

Pepe headbutts Gjanni Alioski in a stalemate that extends Gunners' drought

Perhaps Arsenal are better at shooting themselves in the foot than they are at shooting. Mikel Arteta’s goal-shy team have only found the net once in five league games and even that was a penalty. They found themselves a man down and their chances of a restorative win at Elland Road dented by the a moment of madness from Nicolas Pepe. The circumstances meant a stalemate ended up as a point gained.

For Pepe, who headbutted Gjanni Alioski, it was an opportunity lost. Perhaps Leeds felt the same way; they hit the woodwork three times but could not claim the three points, despite 23 shots. It was nevertheless another example of how they are not intimidated by their supposed superiors. Instead, Arsenal, and Pepe, were rattled.

The Ivorian and Alioski had indulged in a harmless bout of push and shove before the winger overreacted. It was a particularly ill-advised move in a world with VAR and this time technology did its job; referee Anthony Taylor had originally missed their altercation, was directed to watch it on the monitor and produced the inevitable red card.

Pepe is the costliest buy in Arsenal’s history and, given the lack of value for money he has offered for £72 million (Dh95m), one of the worst. He is rarely trusted by Arteta for other reasons, but this will scarcely endear him to his manager. Just a second league start of the season will bring a three-match ban. After David Luiz’s training-ground altercation with Dani Ceballos and Willian’s lockdown-breaching trip to Dubai, this was a further case of Arsenal indiscipline.

Pepe was, admittedly, the closest Arsenal player to scoring, albeit unintentionally, when his cross fooled Illan Meslier and hit the bar, but he marred his manager’s plans in other respects.

Arteta bowed to public pressure and began with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a centre forward; remarkably, it was the first time in his reign that his captain was chosen to lead the line. Aubameyang has spent too much of the season too far from goal, at times appearing a glorified left-back.

The problem with Aubameyang as the sole striker is that he is not suited to holding the ball up; yet as he arrived at Elland Road with fewer shots this season than Harry Maguire, a change of location was required.

Arsenal at least supplied the striker in the box when Hector Bellerin found him and, from an angle, Aubameyang lifted his attempt over the bar. He ended the game a stranded striker in a 4-4-1 formation, his team-mates socially distanced from him by the need to defend.

He had one opportunity when they were down to 10 men, but by then Arsenal had to concentrate on defence. One of the criticisms of Arteta’s Arsenal is that their games can be too uneventful. Not this one: Leeds had 13 shots by half-time, even if profligate finishing was a reason none went in.

Patrick Bamford finished the game by heading against the post. He began it with a throwback to their Championship days, when he was more wasteful. He belied his fine scoring form with a tentative finish and Bernd Leno and showed a similar lack of conviction when Luke Ayling’s cross bounced off Gabriel Magalhaes. Leno stopped again.

Bamford’s first chance was created by a combination of an overlapping Alioski and Jack Harrison and that policy of fielding a left-sided combination of two men who are more wingers than full-backs yielded further chances. Neither Stuart Dallas nor Mateusz Klich hit the target.

The return of the integral Kalvin Phillips gave Leeds more solidity and security. A side who had lost their previous two games 4-1 had an insurance policy and others could raid forward. Leeds’ £18 million arrival from Rennes, Raphinha, made his first start and whipped a shot narrowly wide before clipping the post in injury time.

As Leeds sought to make their man advantage count, Dallas’ rising shot was tipped over by Leno. The substitute Rodrigo whistled an effort past the post and came closer still, leaving Leno motionless with a thunderbolt that hit the bar. Bukayo Saka was denied a decider by Meslier at the other end but Arsenal’s wait for a goal in open play goes on.

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