CALUM CHAMBERS came in from the cold to rescue Mikel Arteta’s bold Carabao Cup gamble.
The former England international hasn’t played a minute for Arsenal since being given the run-around during the 5-0 mauling at Manchester City in August.
But brought on as a 54th-minute substitute for the injured Ben White, Chambers scored with his very first touch of the game to secure the Gunners’ place in the quarter-finals.
And he was joined on the scoresheet by Carabao Cup specialist Eddie Nketiah, whose seventh goal in eight appearances in this competition was enough to see off his former club.
And it was a good job for Arteta that the popular duo came up trumps to keep Arsenal in contention for one of the few competitions they actually have a chance of winning.
Considering that there is also a place in Europe on offer for the winners, it seemed quite a risk when Arteta rested nine of the side which had beaten Aston Villa in their last game.
Maybe his selection was influenced by the fact his team are involved in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off at Leicester.
Yet it still seemed quite a show of faith in his back-up squad against a team as committed to the cause as Leeds.
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Considering this was a first start in quite some time for many of Arsenal’s players, perhaps it was not surprising that they looked so rusty early on.
Too much of their approach play was rushed, with a lack of conviction which allowed Leeds to threaten on the counter-attack.
The visitors almost hit the jackpot when Diego Llorente’s raking pass from the back sent Dan James in on goal in the 19th minute.
But the Welsh international’s first touch wasn’t great and that allowed Bernd Leno to race from his line to block.
An even more important save followed from Arsenal’s out of favour German international when he threw himself across goal to keep out Jack Harrison’s 27th-minute effort.
It was quite a surprise to see Kalvin Phillips back in the Leeds team after he had sat out their previous two Leagues games with a hip injury.
But the England man vindicated his selection with a dominating display in the middle of the park to snuff out Arsenal’s young hopefuls.
And nothing summed up the hosts' growing desperation more than Gabriel Martinelli throwing himself to the ground while clutching his face in agony after the merest touch of an arm from Cody Drameh.
Even without the benefit of VAR, ref Andre Marriner wasn’t buying that one from the theatrical Brazilian.
Emile Smith Rowe tried his luck from distance but was way off target while £72million Nicolas Pepe was once again frustrating the life out of the Emirates crowd with his inability to go past an opponent.
At least the large contingent of travelling Leeds fans had brought something of a Cup-tie atmosphere to this listless encounter.
But they were silenced when Chambers forced that 55th-minute breakthrough with his first goal since September 2019.
Smith Rowe’s corner was flicked on by Nketiah and when Pepe nodded it back across goal Chambers was on hand to apply a firm header from close range.
Meslier thought he had pulled off a miraculous point-blank save but technology informed Marriner that the ball had already crossed the line.
That was Arsenal’s tenth Carabao Cup goal of the season and their 11th soon followed when Liam Cooper’s tame back header was intercepted by Nketiah in the 69th minute.
Like Chambers, Nketiah has hardly a look-in this season and with just six months of his contract remaining is seriously considering his Emirates future.
The England Under-21 international was an important player in Leeds’ promotion-winning team while on loan at Elland Road two seasons ago.
But there was no room for sentiment last night as he flicked the ball over the stranded Meslier before poking a shot into the unguarded goal to settle the tie.
It is now eight games unbeaten for the Gunners and just maybe they are starting to believe that they are heading in the right direction.
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