LONDON -- Arsenal extended their winning run to eight games in all competitions, a heavily rotated side reaching the quarterfinals of the EFL Cup with a 2-0 win over Leeds United.
Second-half goals from Calum Chambers and former Leeds loanee Eddie Nketiah were enough to secure victory for Mikel Arteta, who had made nine changes to the side that so impressively beat Aston Villa on Friday. This performance was certainly not as complete as that had been but an underwhelming win ensures momentum is building in north London. For Marcelo Bielsa, however, this was the latest frustrating night in what has been a tough start to their second season in the Premier League.
There were flashes of promise from a few of the fringe players and youngsters on show. Debutant Cody Drameh might have had a tough time against Gabriel Martinelli, but on the front foot he seemed to fit in ably to Bielsa's system. Meanwhile, Ainsley Maitland-Niles continued his promising adaptation to life in the Arsenal midfield
Still, for most of the first half this was a game where supporters were forced to make their own amusement. That was no great task for the travelling Leeds' supporters, who toasted the travails of their great rivals with a chorus of "Ole's at the wheel." One of Solskjaer's former charges had one of the best chances to come the visitors' way, bursting onto a pass over the top from Diego Llorente, but failing to get a shot away before Bernd Leno whipped the ball off his feet.
The German has lost his starting spot in Arsenal's strongest side to Aaron Ramsdale. Tuesday night, he did all that could be reasonably expected of him to remind Mikel Arteta of his worth. A smart dive down to his left denied Jack Harrison after a fiercely struck volley. Perhaps more impressive was his distribution, with a smattering of passes and throws that flew through the lines, the sort that have had the Emirates gasping in support of his rival goalkeeper.
He was not the only one showing impressive ball progression skills. Ben White, Maitland-Niles and even Rob Holding found it rather easy to drive through Leeds' man to man system and into the final third. The issue was rather what happened when they got there. Nicolas Pepe tended to drive into a defensive wall of his own making. There were flashes of promise, and he certainly could win Arsenal a free kick, but if you had been asked to pick the senior forward in this youthful attack, you would not immediately select the player who cost the Gunners 10 times what they spent on the other three forwards.
Certainly, when White came off with what appeared to be a muscle issue, you wondered whether Arsenal would even be able to get the ball up to their front line. It turned out they did not need to. His replacement Chambers had been on the field a matter of seconds when Pepe flicked a corner back across goal in his direction, a poked finish crossing the line before Illan Meslier could get himself in the way of it.
With a match against fellow Premier League strugglers Norwich City to come on Saturday, it seemed that Leeds may not be all that keen to extend the effort required to draw level with Arsenal, who seemed to burst through midfield with greater regularity. Certainly, they were aided when substitute Liam Cooper miscued a header back to Meslier. Nketiah stole in, lobbing the ball over the goalkeeper with the most delicate of touches.
His second was infinitely less elegant, and for a moment it, seemed he would roll the ball wide of an open goal or that Meslier would make up the ground required to claw it off the line. It did ultimately roll into the far corner and inelegant though it may have been Nketiah celebrated it with particular gusto. Two years ago, he was struggling for regular game time under Bielsa. It may now be that he faces similar travails under Arteta, but a record of seven goals in eight EFL Cup ties at least prove that he knows where the goal is.