Arsenal 1 Leeds United 1
F.A. Cup 3rd Round day still remains one of my favourite days in the footballing calendar. It can truly be measured as the benchmark that we are going into the second half of the season, the chance to visit a new ground has eluded Arsenal fans for some years in this competition, but nevertheless a home tie against opponents who have now become slightly unfamiliar since the salad days of the early 21st Century and a 9,000 strong Leeds contingent made the atmosphere and the occasion unique all the same. Watching the Leeds fans wave their scarves to "The Wonder of You" before the match was a pleasure, whilst their wistful chorus of "Dominic Matteo, scored a f*****g great goal, in the San Siro" served as a reminder that the good times were not that long ago for our visitors. Despite making 9 changes from the team that drew 0-0 with City on Wednesday, it was still a strong line up, though the decision to play two defensive midfielders and a central striker on the wing did have a rather disjointed look about it.
Nevertheless, Arsenal should have been in he lead after 12 minutes. Gibbs found Tomas Rosicky in space in the midfield and Rosicky picked out the onrushing Arshavin with a sumptuous pass as Leeds tried to play offside. But Arshavin`s first touch was cumbersome and he never really got the ball out of his feet, allowing Kasper Schmeichel to smother his effort. Arsenal looked somewhat disjointed against a well organised Leeds side, who might have taken the lead themselves on the counter attack. Howson slipped a ball into the left channel with Eboue standing and watching, Szczesny came rushing out to block Becchi`s attempt and Denilson eventually got the ball clear, but not before lamentably taking two players on in his own area when he had the chance to clear the ball emphatically in front of his protected goal. A mindless risk to take, though he did get away with it on this occasion. The Gunners were struggling to put convincing attacking moves together, but did spark into life when Rosicky`s clipped pass found Chamakh; he headed the ball down for Arshavin, whose left footed volley was smuggled away by Schmeichel. Bendtner was unlucky with an effort from a tight angle after cleverly beating two Leeds players in the area.
Arsenal brought pressure to bear on the Leeds goal with a flurry of set pieces. Firstly when Bendtner prodded Arshavin`s corner into the six yard area, where Squillaci redirected it towards goal, only for Leeds skipper Johnny Howson to clear off the line. Becchio was next with the goal line heroics when Bendtner`s header was hacked away from the far post, whilst Chamakh rose above the Leeds defence only to head straight at Schmeichel. But the brief rumble of pressure petered out into a glum hum as the home side continued to look disjointed and short of inspiration. The beginning of the second half brought a slightly higher tempo, but before the Gunners could get out of a rut and into a groove, they would find themselves a goal behind. Robert Snodgrass found himself in space on Leeds left; Max Gradel simply ambled away from his marker Denilson in the middle of the pitch, who stopped just short of ruffling his hair and pinching his cheeks before he sent him on his way. Gradel moved into the area, where Denilson was finally propulsed into life, unfortunately the grey area was not sufficiently activated to prevent him dangling a leg out and tripping Gradel for a Leeds penalty. It was indicative of the game Denilson had in truth, whilst Song was poor for reasons of fatigue, Denilson looked incredibly rusty indeed. He`s given away similar penalties before at Hull and at home to Bolton, not to mention the handball in Belgrade. Fabregas was candid in his assessment after the match, "When you`re a professional footballer you cannot give away this kind of penalty." Very true, but not quite as bad as punching a free kick away when you`re stood in the wall Cesc.......
Snodgrass stepped up and placed the penalty low to Szczesny`s left, the Pole got a touch on it but couldn`t prevent its progress to the net to send the 9,000 travelling fans writhing in ecstasy. Almost immediately, Wenger called for his captain from the bench. He had an instant impact when he turned a clever ball to Eboue on the right, whose cross found Chamakh, but the Moroccan mistimed his header with the goal gaping. It was the Moroccan`s last action before Walcott was introduced, who again lent our front line a better balance. Bendtner had struggled to get involved on the right, but in the centre, is involvement became more pronounced and more positive. That said, it was notable that Arshavin trotted to the touchline, I don`t know whether he knew he was playing badly and expected to be replaced or whether he just plain wanted out of there. The crowd have really begun to turn on him and he doesn`t help when he refuses to chase passes that, though not perfect, are eminently gettable. Staring down at your shin pads whilst the ball trickles away slowly a short distance behind you is never likely to fare well with supporters. I think I counted four occasions when that happened yesterday. Is he low on confidence or is he sulking? I can`t tell, but the positive thing is that he is usually impervious to the whims of the crowd. He was when we were all queuing up to crawl up his arse and he will be now, which is as it should be.
Szczesny was called upon one more time with a contribution which kept the tie alive. Snodgrass` corner saw Becchio easily rise above a static Denilson and the Pole thrust out his right arm to make an impressive stop. Fabianski has a real fight on his hands to preserve number 1 status. Despite his entropy, Arshavin still had two of our best chances and created another. I cannot work out if that mitigates his laziness a little or whether it makes it more frustrating. But he showed commendable bravery to head the ball past the outstretched boot of Ben Parker and dinked a beautiful ball over the top of the Leeds defence to Walcott, but his attempt to lob Schmeichel was easily rebuffed. With a greater urgency and a more balanced side, Arsenal really began to push Leeds back and controversy ensued on 87 minutes when Bendtner`s back heel found Theo Walcott in the box, Alex Bruce dangled a leg and Phil Dowd pointed to the spot. Dowd then reversed his decision when he saw the linesman had flagged Bendtner offside, AFTER Bruce`s infringement. This appears to reveal, unsurprisingly, that Dowd is unaware of a basic rule of the game. If the foul occurs BEFORE the offside, then surely you give the foul? Had Walcott still been on his feet, he would still have had the ball under control and therefore Bendtner`s position would have been irrelevant. After the match, Walcott fessed up to diving in the first place so I guess justice was done.
But around 100 seconds later Arsenal did have a penalty. Fabregas found Bendtner in the area, who turned a clever ball round to Walcott. Ben Parker could not cope with Theo`s pace and dragged him back. Apparently that did not constitute a clear goal scoring opportunity, but when Koscielny fouled Nile Ranger 45 yards from goal it did. Go figure. Fabregas stepped up and calmly placed the ball down the middle just as the fourth official indicated 4 minutes of stoppage time. The away side looked as though they were gripped with fatigue and the Gunners had chances to snatch the tie in stoppage time. First when Fabregas arced a beautiful ball over the top of the Leeds defence for Bendtner, who horribly screwed a left foot volley wide. Fabregas was again instigating trouble for the Leeds defence. He found Arshavin in the area, who was squeezed out by O`Brien, but Denilson won the ball on the edge of the area and hit a rasping shot which looked destined for goal until Schmeichel flung a finger tip and pushed the ball wide. There was last effort too when Fabregas` free kick caused a game of head tennis to break out, Djourou had the presence of mind to head the ball to Walcott, who took a brilliant touch wide to set himself before firing the ball into the side netting. It was a breathless final ten minutes but we kept ourselves in the competition. A replay is not ideal, but when you`re a goal down after 88 minutes, you can`t turn your nose up at the draw. We created plenty of chances to win the game, but it was not the first time a lack of killer instinct has prevented us from winning the game. The team didn`t have a good balance to it, without Fabregas or Nasri, we didn`t have enough players willing to play between the opposition midfield and defence. Nobody could find the space and consequently, we played in straight lines, which suited Leeds. The front three were not suited either, whilst too many squad players did little to convince the manager that they should be featuring on a regular basis. I think Eboue`s ironic, funny ha-ha cult status has got to him. He was our first choice for home matches last season, with Sagna playing away from home. It`s no wonder Eboue struggles to even make the bench this season, his effort has been subpar in pretty much every match he has played. Ultimately, we were punished for thinking we could win the game in second gear, now we have a tough replay to face. What`s that old saying about the lazy man doing more work? Still, whilst the result and elements of the performance were frustrating, we live to fight another day.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 27.EBOUE, 18.SQUILLACI, 20.DJOUROU, 28.GIBBS, 17.SONG (4.Fabregas `59), 15.DENILSON, 7.ROSICKY(c) (14.Walcott `79), 52.BENDTNER, 23.ARSHAVIN, 29.CHAMAKH (14.Walcott `68). Unused: 16.Ramsey, 21.Fabianski, 22.Clichy, 48.Miquel.