Dismal Arsenal Survive But Will They Learn?
FA Cup Third Round
Arsenal 1 – 1 Leeds United
0 – 1 Snodgrass (54 pen)
1 – 1 Fabregas (90 pen)
Aside from the final ten minutes of the first half, the final twenty of the match, it was a turgid and dismal performance. The absence of width in attack, combined with sloppy passing in the opening twenty minutes gave a disciplined Leeds United encouragement to believe that they can could achieve a good result.
Not that all of the starters were poor; Szczesny, Gibbs, Djourou and Denilson all played well, considering the overall context of the team performance. Some of the others had mitigating circumstances. Alex Song looked shattered; Chamakh was starved of any chances – it is impossible to score if few are presented – whilst Nicklas Bendtner is not a right winger by any stretch of the imagination. And it showed.
Leeds started as energetically as Arsenal were lethargic yet it was the hosts who should have opened the scoring. Rosicky in a rare glimpse of brightness from his performance, fed Arshavin. The Russian’s lack of confidence showed with a weak finish against Schmeichel’s leg.
When or why the Russian is apparently mentally shot is unknown but bereft of confidence he certainly is. And subject to the kind of abuse that Song, Eboue and Denilson have put with for years – welcome to Arsenal, Andrey. You’ve never truly arrived until the crowd are on your back.
The following twenty minutes disappeared into a mire of ceded possession and stray passes as Leeds threatened sporadically, Becchio the main threat all afternoon. Arsenal awoke from their comatose state with half an hour gone. Schmeichel denied Arshavin and Denilson whilst Squillaci and Chamakh were denied by defensive discipline.
As much of a flurry activity as a false dawn. Bendtner had one moment on the right, drawing a save from Schmeichel but no breakthrough came. For Arsenal at least. Eboue was isolated on the right, shepherding Snodgrass towards a position of relative safety. The Leeds midfielder turned and fed the unmarked Gradel, who cut in and was felled clumsily by Denilson. The power of Snodgrass’s penalty beat Szczesny.
It was a mistake for which the Brazilian is rightly criticised, too many basic errors in one passage of play. It brought chastisement from his captain about the ‘stupidty’ of the incident. It’s a catching thing, eh, Cesc?
Cesc’s arrival was no surprise, Song’s departure meant Denilson was shifted into the more defensive role and became more subdued, along with knowing that his mistake might cost the team dear. It might have been an irrelevant substitution had Szczesny not blocked Becchio’s header with a sharp save to his right.
The arrival of Walcott gave Arsenal some pace. Either Chamakh or Bendtner could have gone with little complaint. Would the Moroccan have fared better with the late chance that Bendtner sliced wide – who knows?
The main focus of Walcott’s involvement in a comedy of errors that eventually came to the right decision. Walcott admitted that he dived in an attempt to win a penalty. Dowd appeared to award the penalty before overruling himself and giving an offside after the event. He should be commended for his honesty; whether there are repercussions is an entirely different matter.
Arshavin sent Walcott clear but the England forward failed to get any height on his attempted lob which ended tamely in the goalkeeper’s arms. The next time Walcott broke into the area, it was more effective. Tugged back, he still managed to get his shot away but Phil Dowd decided that he had been impeded enough and pointed to the spot. Cesc coolly scored and a draw salvaged.
Whilst the referee is to be commended for his bravery in making that call, perhaps officials can be more consistent and penalise all of the pulls and tugs suffered with penalties. No wait, our full and centre backs might be in real trouble in that happens.
The outcome is a replay. Lucky or unlucky is a matter of perspective. Despite the appalling nature of the performance, Arsenal survived and Leeds may yet fancy their chances. History is against them. They have never knocked Arsenal out in any tie involving replays nor have they ever knocked Arsenal out at home. Which side Wenger fields may have a big influence on whether that record continues.