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Arsenal Prove A Different Class To Vanquish Leeds

FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
Leeds United 1 – 3 Arsenal

0 – 1 Nasri (4)
0 – 2 Sagna (34)
1 – 2 Johnson (37)
1 – 3 van Persie (76)

Arsenal maintained their record of never having lost an FA Cup tie at Elland Road with a comfortable victory last night. It was a scoreline which flattered the hosts, Arshavin and Bendtner failed to apply finishing touches from close range which would have put the gap between the two sides into proper perspective.

Leeds worked hard but found themselves up against a more balanced Arsenal side than in the original tie, one that was in better form and one determined to answer its critics with a win. The returning Bacary Sagna gave more balance to the Arsenal right hand side, supporting Nicklas Bendtner and allowing the Dane to move inside more readily, knowing that he had support outside of him if required.

Equally Samir Nasri dominated proceedings. The Frenchman continued his imperious form, prompting Arsenal attacks whilst not shirking his defensive duties. That was the underlying theme of the Arsenal performance; teamwork. They attacked as a team, defended as a team.

The distribution, particularly in the first half, was as good as it has been all season with rarely a pass wasted. Djourou and Koscielny had the Leeds forwards subdued, closing gaps as quickly as they opened, passing their way out of trouble confidently and with a minimum of fuss. Whilst Nasri was voted Man of the Match, either of the centre backs could quite easily have been awarded that accolade.

Part of the reason for the comfortable nature of the win was the early goal. Arshavin fed the ball into the centre, an unintended Chamakh dummy and thirty seconds later, Nasri had calmly run through the Leeds defence to put the ball past Schmeichel. Whilst it might only be the Juniors in the Leeds goal and defence, there is still something satisfying about Arsenal making a mockery of Bruce and Schmeichel.

The lead should have been doubled five minutes later, Chamakh headed a Nasri free kick firmly towards the bottom corner, Schmeichel flicking the ball firmly up into the air before safely gathering a tame effort immediately after. With the halfway mark in the first half not even reached, Arshavin had missed the opportunity to double the lead, shooting over from the edge of the area following good work from Nasri and Chamakh.

The Russian did everything but score last night, failing to meet a Chamakh cross when a touch on the ball would have brought the end of his barren run. Had Snodgrass not made a timely interception in the second half, Arshavin was ready to pounce and his air shot showed what would have happened. Arshavin though, ran himself into the ground, chasing after passes and defending from the front. If he has borne the brunt of criticism recently, he should receive praise for last night.

Arshavin was not the only one missing from close range; Bendtner followed suit following good work from Sagna. The defender was peeved with that miss to the extent that he hammered home a shot with half an hour played, the Leeds defence giving him space to shoot and the Frenchman duly obliged.

Not that the two-goal advantage lasted for long; Arsenal were unconvincing in clearing the ball, Howson scrabbled the ball to Johnson who delivered the ‘shot of a lifetime‘ for the second game running apparently. 2 – 1 and Leeds were marginally back in the match.

They could have been out of it within sixty seconds of the restart, Alex Song bringing a good save from Schmeichel, the ensuing corner fizzling out. Nasri then brought the Dane into action from a free kick, Fabregas would later have the goalkeeper clasping at air as his effort swept over the wall and marginally wide.

On the hour mark, Leeds briefly threatened. Paynter missed in a similar fashion to Bendtner and Arshavin in the first half whilst his replacement, Somma, kneed wide when it was possibly easier to score. Arsenal’s subsitute’s carried more threat and highlighted the gulf between the two sides; van Persie and Fabregas replaced Chamakh and Arshavin. Ken Bates’ ill-advised jibes beforehand were rammed down his throat when the Dutchman rose majestically to meet Bendtner’s cross, placing the ball where Schmeichel had been and into the net.

It was a win that was made to look easy by the hard work that the side put in. For Arsene, the starting XI last night is a good bet for the forthcoming Carling Cup tie against Ipswich, more balanced with Nasri in midfield and Sagna supporting Bendtner.

’til Tomorrow.

FA Cup Preview: Leeds Signals All Change

Arsenal travel to Elland Road for only the third FA Cup Third Round Replay during Arsene’s time in charge at the club. Both previous occasions have seen Arsenal prevail away from home against a team from the division below, Sunderland in 1996/97 and Port Vale, a season later. Which is an altogether more cheerier stat than reminder everyone that on this day in 2000, Arsenal exited the FA Cup following defeat at Leicester on penalties in a fourth round replay.

But not quite as cheery as reminding Leeds United that they have never beaten Arsenal in an FA Cup tie played outside of London. This is the sixth time they have tried, Arsenal have prevailed on three on previous five occasions, the remaining two have been draws. That cannot happen tonight, the tie resolved by penalties if necessary.

Personally, I find replays anachronistic. The Carling Cup has moved to resolving matches on the day, the FA Cup should go the same way. There has been talk that the competition will be moved to midweek, similar to many on continental Europe. The TV companies may rattle on about the glory of the FA Cup but it has been relegated to third place in the trophy target list of those clubs which qualify for the Champions League. Not that it is unimportant, simply diminished by the money on offer elsewhere.

But cheery is something that Arsenal are not at this moment in time.

Arsene is unhappy because he cannot find a centre back, or as he put it, “I cannot tell you [about the type of player] at the moment because it has to click in my head and nothing has happened yet“. Goodness knows why he cannot find one, he gets enough advice on a daily basis as to whom he should buy. Arsene, you need to read all of the scouts out in blogland, they have an eye for a bargain or two.

His problem is exacerbated by Squillaci’s injury – is his a rolling two-week absence? – which is going to necessitate a rest for Johan Djourou, Wenger admitted that the Swiss has played more than was intended at the start of the season. Tonight is likely to see Ignasi Miquel make his debut for the first team as a result.

Elsewhere, Denilson’s comments prior to the original meeting with Leeds have been regurgitated by The Sun, who it seems cannot be arsed to fix up an interview with the player himself, instead thieving content from Arseblog and Arsenal Brasil.

There is an element of truth in that Cesc tends to lead by example on the pitch, rather than being a vocal performer in the mould of Adams or McLintock. It however, also highlights Denilson’s own immaturity in needing a leader, a disappointing trait in one who has played as many first team games as he has.

Back to this evening. Earlier this week Arsene spoke of the need to rotate and he can do so with most of the squad fit. He noted, however, that not so many changes would be made as the first tie, pointing out the underperformance of many in that encounter. No doubt a few will be given the chance to put right those wrongs.

With Miquel likely to start in defence, it is entirely possible that only Koscielny will retain his place from the weekend. Sagna would offer the young Spaniard a more experienced head to guide Miquel through his debut. Gibbs on the left would complete three changes in defence.

Who is Arsene kidding? Looking at the team on Saturday, a strong case could be made for nine changes although Arsene is likely to resist that many with Wilshere retaining his place alongside Denilson and Rosicky. Up front, I would personally use Walcott and Arshavin with Chamakh leading the line. Wenger is likely to persevere with Bendtner on the right.

Arsene’s line-up is probably,

Szczesny; Sagna, Miquel, Koscielny, Gibbs; Rosicky, Denilson, Wilshere; Bendtner, Chamakh, Arshavin

Personally, I would take Denilson out and leave Song in, Walcott replacing Bendtner on the right with a case for Fabregas starting rather than Rosicky. The bench is likely to give Wenger his options, no surprise if it includes Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie and Song just in case things are going awry.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

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.

’til Tomorrow.


Leeds United Preview: Football’s Senile Old Goats Are At It…

A quick preview this morning as we have to leave shortly. Saturday lunchtime kick-off’s are like Saturday evening kick-off’s; just wrong. Sunday isn’t much better, gone are the days when Saturday 3pm meant something.

The same could be said of the FA Cup, currently under review at the FA, likely to lose replays in the near future based on recent comments by an FA suit although more radically, becoming a midweek competition. That would be welcome but about as likely to happen as a winter World Cup…never let it be said that Sepp doesn’t know how to look after his friends and marginalise his opponents in one fell swoop.

No matter the entirely logical complaints from Wenger about this, if Blatter wants it, it will happen. It would mean a two-month break in domestic seasons – countries no doubt demanding a fortnight before the tournament with the players – which will cause chaos in major European leagues. Whilst it is inconvenient, the clubs should perhaps take this pain as way of removing international friendlies from the football calendar, especially as none have the cojones to leave either Uefa or Fifa’s auspices.

Leeds United arrive at The Emirates this lunchtime for the fourteenth FA Cup meeting, including replays, between the two sides. Arsenal has won five, Leeds two with seven draws. For Arsenal, it is a fixture which signals a good FA Cup run if they emerge victorious, never failing to get to the semi-finals on the five occasions, winning the trophy in 1950 and 1993.

Arsene has unsurprisingly announced plenty of changes to the squad from the goalless draw against Manchester City, most encouraging is the return to the Arsenal first team of Aaron Ramsey following his recovery from injury.  With Cesc, Nasri, RvP, Wilshere and Koscielny all missing, opportunities open for those who come in to impress. Arsene though is determined to put out a strong side. Leeds struggle to keep clean sheets on their travels, a good starting XI will put that to the test.

That line-up I think will be:

Szczesny; Eboue, Djourou, Squillaci, Gibbs; Rosicky, Song, Denilson; Walcott, Chamakh, Arshavin

Based on Wenger’s comments, it seems unlikely that Ramsey will start this afternoon, more likely that will be the case Ipswich. Up front, Bendtner is likely to lead the line at Portman Road which will probably mean a place on the bench this afternoon, introduced as a replacement for Walcott after an hour.

Carlos Vela and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas are up for loan and may get a run-out this afternoon, as well as at Ipswich, provided they have not gone already. Wenger has made it clear both are only available to Premier League clubs and that neither will be making a permanent move, at the moment. With so many changes, there will be some disjointedness in the performance but a win will do nicely thank you.

Of course it gives us a chance to welcome that loveable old rapscallion, Ken Bates, to The Emirates. Those of us who are a certain age never forget to laugh at his japes, electric fences at a dilapidated Stamford Bridge, forgetting whether or not he owns any shares in Leeds ultimate parent company. Without any sense of irony, he whinged and complained that he didn’t like Wenger because the Frenchman never sees anything, and is always moaning and complaining…

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

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