Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang marked his return to the Arsenal starting XI with a hat-trick as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-2 at the Emirates.
The Arsenal forward last started a game back in mid-January before missing several fixtures due to the ill health of his mother, returning to the side from the bench for the defeats to Wolves and Aston Villa.
However, Aubameyang wasted little time to get back among the goals as he opened the scoring in the 13th minute, the Gabon international driving into the box from the left, doing a few step overs, cutting onto his favoured right foot before finishing into the bottom left corner past Illan Meslier.
Just before the half-hour mark, Aubameyang was denied a second as Luke Ayling blocked his goal-bound strike following a cut back from David Luiz down the right.
Shortly after, the Gunners were awarded a penalty as Leeds defender Liam Cooper was adjudged to have brought down Bukayo Saka in the box, only for it to be overturned following a review of the pitchside footage.
They were however given a spot-kick in the 41st minute, Leeds ‘keeper Meslier making a right mess of an attempted turn on the ball, before fouling Saka who had nipped in to steal possession. Aubameyang stepped up and despatched his 200th goal in Europe’s top five leagues.
The north London club would further extend their lead before the break, Mikel Arteta’s side playing some wonderful intricate play inside the Leeds box, the move eventually being finished off by full-back Hector Bellerin who drilled the ball past Meslier at his near post.
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Within two minutes of the restart, Aubameyang completed his hat-trick, nodding home unmarked at the back post following a floated ball from youngster Emile Smith Rowe as the hosts looked to be in total control.
However, Leeds midfielder Pascal Struijk pulled one back for the West Yorkshire club with a powerful header past Bernd Leno, the Dutchman getting away from his man and getting a good run at the ball from a Raphinha corner approaching the hour mark.
They pulled another back in the 69th minute as Helder Costa got in front of his man to tuck home a Tyler Roberts cross, while they also had a decent shout for a penalty turned down after Patrick Bamford went tumbling in the box.
Mikel Arteta had previously compared playing Bielsa’s side as like taking a trip to the dentist, and the Spaniard was understandably delighted with the win, while saying he predicted their opponents second-half rally.
“I am really happy because I watch them so much and I know how difficult they are. They are a fantastic team and they showed that over the course of the game, they showed spirit at 4-0 down, throw everything at you and make life very difficult.
“I try to do the best I can, they are a fantastic team, they put you under a lot of trouble and everyone knows their roles. They are very man orientated and we did really good for big period. Credit to them, to maintain the level of belief at 4-0 is remarkable.
“I said at half time, it is 0-0. If their is team in the league who will throw everything at you it is Leeds. We conceded from a set-piece, they pulled another back and their energy level is incredible. It is difficult to maintain the physical demands of the game.”
The 38-year-old also discussed Aubameyang’s hat-trick heroics, the striker finishing the game with a sore ankle following a heavy challenge from Luke Ayling.
“We have been missing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals and him at his best. He has been training after a difficult period with a family issue and we had a feeling he could be key in this game. He was in pain and got a big kick, twisted his ankle but hopefully he will be fine (for Thursday).”
Next up for the Gunners is the first leg of their Europa League last 32 clash against Benfica.