Leeds United 1 Arsenal 3
They say the lazy man does more work and with Arsenal trying unsuccessfully to coast their way through at home to Leeds, it was left to an undesired replay at Elland Road. Still, when the clock struck 87 minutes at the Grove for the original tie, we would all have taken this situation gladly. So it is that a crammed January had to wedge another midweek away cup tie into its schedule. This was something of a small personal milestone for me, attendance of the fixture meant that 9 years have now passed since Arsenal played a domestic match without my inspirational attendance. Fittingly enough, it was a game at Elland Road in January 2002 that I peered out through the idiot box. Our first journey to Elland Road for seven years and the streets were lined with rowdy Leeds fans well over an hour before kickoff. I was fortunate enough to meet with our esteemed editor, making a shorter journey than I, for a beer in the concourse before proceedings began. Still, that awful new Chamakh song persists. "He`s from a place not far from Iraq." Firstly, he was born in France. Secondly, Morocco is 3,000 miles away from Iraq! London is closer than that. "He plays upfront and he plays in attack." He plays upfront and in attack?! Now that`s versatility!
In feverish cup ties such as this, an early goal is always desirable and Arsenal were able to prescribe that remedy inside five minutes. Koscielny intercepted Howson`s pass high up the pitch, Gibbs fed the ball into Chamakh, who in turn laid it off to Arshavin. The Russian tried to guide the ball back into Chamakh`s path, but unwittingly found a ball into the onrushing Nasri. Nasri took a touch past O`Brien and Bruce before sliding the ball coolly into the bottom corner. Not only has the frequency and timing of Nasri`s runs improved, but his finishing is never anything less than meticulous. The goal instantly quelled a noisy home crowd and smothered the opposition`s morale, allowing the Arsenal tentacle to tightly grip the larynx of the game. After one of Sagna`s umpteen raids down the right, he forced a cynical foul from Howson. Nasri`s subsequent free kick found Chamakh unmarked and his powerful downward header was beaten out by Kasper Schmeichel. The Gunners were totally on top, when some one touch play between Bendtner, Chamakh and Nasri saw Arshavin blast a shot over the bar from outside the area. Arshavin was guilty of missing a rather simpler chance a few minutes later when Chamakh`s centre found Arshavin unmarked inside the area, but he missed the ball completely with the goal winking seductively.
Nothing at all is coming off for the Russian at the moment, but if he continues to show the same application as he did last night, he`ll not find the magic stays away for too long. Indeed, the desire to correct his form was apparent minutes later when he pirouetted beautifully past Johnson only to see his low shot well saved by Schmeichel from distance. Arsenal were guilty of not slaying their opposition and were left to rue another missed chance. A raking cross field ball from the fast improving Koscielny found Sagna in an acre of space on the right and his cross was flashed across goal a fraction too hard for the sliding Nicklas Bendtner at the back post. Bendtner too has come in for criticism of late, but applied himself and had a solid game indeed. A better liked player would have found greater commendation for that this morning. Denilson and Song formed a calm, physically imposing axis in midfield. Song is looking more like a complete midfield player to me by the game. But Arsenal did move into a two goal lead eventually via an unlikely, but very deserving source. Sagna foraged down the flank with impunity and found his reward when Nasri tried to play Bendtner in, the Dane`s touch was heavy, allowing O`Brien to clear as far as Sagna. Leeds failed to close Banger down and he sized up the opportunity, hitting a rising shot from the angle which flew into the top corner via Schmeichel`s singed glove. Last season, Eboue`s attacking prowess saw him selected ahead of Sagna for certain games. Sagna`s response has been to improve his forward play and work hard. Eboue`s has been to become sloppy, complacent and move backwards as a player.
Leeds` support continued to find its voice with a an unoriginal rendition of "You`re just a small town in Tottenham." Incorrect. Tottenham is in East London now. However, the home support was given reason to add vigour to its vocal chords shortly before half time. Snodgrass tried to work an angle on the Leeds right, only for Arshavin to rob him of the ball. Snodgrass clearly hauled Arshavin back to regain possession, only for the linesman to ludicrously wave the appeals away. You often get this sort of "pity" refereeing when a large club faces a side from a lower league. The officials tend to let the "plucky underdogs" get away with more in the 50-50 decisions owing to a subconscious desire to even the contest up. Gradel`s cross was cleared by Koscielny as far as Howson; he shifted the ball left to Johnson who hit across the ball expertly, sending it spiralling into the top corner with Szczesny helpless. Szczesny turned to the away support with a flummoxed expression, as if to say, "Nowt I could do about that." So half time found the scoreline a much less comfortable affair than it ought to have been. My attempts at a half time urination were foiled; the away end at Leeds serves 3,000 and has only two toilets. You can imagine the sort of scrum that causes. Health and safety is a convenient mirage for football clubs. They hide behind it when they choose, yet very few grounds have any sort of health and safety provision really.
The second half was a slightly twitchier affair, but more Carlo Ancelotti`s eyebrow than Harry Redknapp`s face. Leeds tried to apply the pressure, but found themselves schooled by the twin forces of Arsenal`s midfield and defence. In fact, the away side should have killed the game off inside the first sixty seconds of the half. Bendtner brought the ball in from the wide right and found Nasri. He touched the ball into the path of Alex Song, who was foiled by the fists of Schmeichel from close range. Arshavin`s low confidence was again manifest when his finish in the area from a sweeping move saw the ball sail into the adjacent car park behind Elland Road. Though Arsenal were fairly comfortable, the manager still called for Sergeant Fabregas and Lieutenant van Persie from the bench to close the game out. That combination were at the epicentre of the deciding goal, when Fabregas swept the ball wide to Bendtner. The Dane looked up and picked out a peach of a cross, which van Persie followed right onto his bonce, before powering a header past Schmeichel. Leeds had nothing left in the tank and it was left with the visiting supporters to taunt Kasper Schmeichel with a chorus of "Your Dad is a w****r" to the tune of Seven Nation Army. A very satisfying and professional victory. We did it all by the book, early goal, possession football, killed the game off and didn`t panic when Leeds grabbed a goal back. No blame can be attributed for the goal concession, there was a clear foul on Arshavin in the build up and the shot was unstoppable. Ultimately, in these games where there is a gulf in class, you need to match the other side`s hunger and motivation, we did that. Now we need to do it again and again, starting all over again on Saturday.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 15.DENILSON, 17.SONG, 8.NASRI(c) (22.Clichy `83), 52.BENDTNER, 23.ARSHAVIN (4.Fabregas `71), 29.CHAMAKH (10.v.Persie `71). Unused: 14.Walcott, 19.Wilshere, 27.Eboue, 49.Shea.
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