It was Beauty and the Beast at Highbury last night and the Beast won. Leeds United will not worry about that, however, having gained what could prove a vital victory, as much for its psychological impact as for the three points.
They may regret the price they paid. Amid 11 yellow cards, seven for Leeds, both Lee Bowyer and Danny Mills were sent off for collecting two apiece. Bowyer could be set for further punishment after appearing to abuse the referee, Jeff Winter, after his dismissal. Between the niggles and kicks, goals from Ian Harte, after 29 minutes, and Mark Viduka, after 53, outnumbered Sylvain Wiltord's 31st-minute equaliser.
"To come to a place like this and win without playing well is a fantastic three points," said David O'Leary. The Leeds manager added: "Personally I didn't think it was a dirty game. I couldn't believe some of the bookings."
O'Leary is hardly an impartial witness. To the neutral observer Leeds set out to disrupt Arsenal rather than outplay them. None of the tackles were as bad as Mauricio Taricco's on Thomas Gravesen on Monday night, but most warranted bookings by modern standards.
Winter used his yellow card to caution Leeds players four times in the opening 18 minutes but could have been even stricter. He was criticised for creating a rod for his own back with these cautions but if players keep kicking opponents it is hardly his fault. Arsenal, for 45 minutes, produced the sort of football which fills stadiums and if a team can only stop them by foul means they deserve to be penalised.
In the end, Arsenal lost their heads as well. As they sought to level against an increasingly depleted Leeds, frayed tempers led to bookings while their football became as inept as Everton's on Monday. Instead of stretching Leeds by working the ball wide and seeking to pull it back from the byline they hoisted long balls into the box from deep thus negating their numerical advantage.
"We are really disappointed," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "We need to be strong at home. There were many fouls, a lot of over-reacting, it was not the football I like."
For most of the opening half-hour Arsenal, with Robert Pires outstanding, were utterly dominant and between bookings Nigel Martyn had to deny Wiltord three times and Adams once.
Then Leeds, breaking out of defence, stunned Highbury. Mills, on a driving run, was felled by Pires. With Arsenal still building their wall Harte curled a 25-yard shot round it and inside the far post. "It was ridiculous," said Wenger. "It should not be accepted. You are building the wall and the guy just shoots."
Arsenal, players and fans alike fired by a sense of injustice, tore into the attack and, within three minutes, were rewarded. Pires, striding through the midfield, found Ashley Cole on the left. His attempted shot took a slight deflection and Wiltord, reacting sharply, dived to head the ball past Martyn.
Leeds' problems appeared to worsen when Alan Smith limped off with an ankle injury but O'Leary reacted well. David Batty came on to strengthen the midfield and the previously anonymous Bowyer and Harry Kewell, were asked to support Viduka from the flanks.
It worked like a dream. Six minutes later Kewell, breaking down the left, beat Lauren before crossing to Viduka. He drifted past a pedestrian Tony Adams to drive past David Seaman. As tempers rose the cards returned and, with 11 minutes to go, Bowyer, booked for a scything foul on Lauren in the first half, was cautioned again for bringing down Cole. It seemed one of the harsher decisions.
Seven minutes later Mills, who had been sailing close to the wind for some time, finally pushed Winter too far, kicking the ball at Cole as the player lay injured on the ground after one of his own challenges. Leeds, showing far more spirit than Arsenal had imagination, held on for their first Premiership win at Highbury since 1994.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman 4; Lauren 4, Campbell 5, Adams 5, Cole 7; Parlour 5 (Bergkamp 5, 65), Ljungberg 5 (Van Bronckhorst, 77), Vieira 6, Pires 7; Henry 7, Wiltord 7 (Jeffers, 77). Substitutes not used: Grimandi, Wright (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 8; Mills 3, Matteo 6, Ferdinand 6, Harte 6; Bowyer 3, Bakke 4 (Woodgate, 89), Dacourt 5, Kewell 4 (Kelly, 89); Smith 4 (Batty 5, 47), Viduka 5. Substitutes not used: Keane, Milosevic (gk).
Referee: J Winter (Stockton) 6.Reuse content