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Arsenal too good for Leeds in thrilling Cup replay

Leeds 1 Arsenal 3

Johnson 37; Nasri 5, Sagna 35, van Persie 76

Arsenal raced out of the blocks at Elland Road and quickly took command of this FA Cup third round replay, and despite a wonder goal from Leeds’ Bradley Johnson they eased to a well-deserved and ultimately comfortable win courtesy of first half goals by Samir Nasri and Bacary Sagna, and Robin van Persie‘s late header.

Arsène Wenger made six changes from the side which beat West Ham on Saturday, but more importantly this was a notably stronger side than the one which barely escaped with a draw in the original game against Leeds, with Emmanuel Eboué, Sébastien Squillaci and Tomáš Rosický replaced by Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Nasri.

Szczęsny

Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Gibbs

Denilson – Song

Nasri

Bendtner – Chamakh – Arshavin

Nasri opened the scoring inside five minutes (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Leeds, cheered on by a rumbustious sell-out Elland Road crowd, started with the same energy with which they had played at the Emirates, but the visitors stunned them inside five minutes with a typically neat Arsenal goal. Crisp, quick interplay involving Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin set up Nasri between two defenders, and the French international skipped into the area before coolly sliding the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.

Arsenal continued to press as they sought a second goal, and Leeds were grateful to Schmeichel for keeping them in the game. First he produced a wonderful one-handed stop as Chamakh rose to meet a Nasri free kick with a powerful header, then he had to react smartly to deal with a low, swerving drive by Arshavin.

The Russian, the target of criticism from many fans this season for several lacklustre and lackadaisical performances, looked very much in the mood early on, often drifting inside to receive the ball, and having three shots in the first half hour.

Sagna doubled Arsenal's lead with a net-bursting strike (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Chances continued to rain down on Schmeichel’s goal as Leeds struggled to gain a foothold. A great ball from Koscielny sent Sagna galloping down the right at pace. Passing up the chance to shoot, he rolled an inviting ball across goal, but a sliding Nicklas Bendtner was unable to get a touch. Shortly after, he did not hesitate with a second opportunity. Another incisive attack seemed to have broken down after Bendtner’s heavy touch, but the ball fell to the full back in the corner of the area, and this time he had no hesitation rifling in a fierce shot which an unsighted Schemichel could only help into the net. A stunning strike.

Arsenal’s two-goal advantage lasted barely two minutes as Leeds replied with an even better goal eight minutes before half-time. Arshavin might have been fouled by Robert Snodgrass in the build-up – it looked fair enough to me – but there was no arguing with the 30-yard screamer from the left foot of Bradley Johnson which gave Wojciech Szczęsny no chance as it arrowed into the top right-hand corner. You will not see a better long-range strike all season.

Kasper Schmeichel kept Leeds in the game with several fine saves (image courtesy of leedsunited.com)

The goal was Leeds’ only meaningful shot of the half, but it lifted both their players and fans, and helped even up the game somewhat. Nonetheless Schmeichel twice had to be on his mettle in the opening moments of the second half, blocking an angled shot from Alex Song and stopping a Nasri free kick which dipped over the defensive wall.

Arshavin, industrious and willing but lacking a combination of luck and composure, was denied by a last-ditch sliding tackle by Snodgrass before lifting another chance twenty rows back into the stand behind Schmeichel’s goal. But Leeds were also starting to carve out half-chances. Eddie Paynter narrowly missed one cross, and his replacement Davide Somma deflected another off his thigh but harmlessly wide.

Van Persie's header ended the game as a contest (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Responding to the growing home threat, Wenger sent on Robin van Persie and Cesc Fàbregas for Chamakh and the luckless Arshavin. The changes yielded immediate dividends. A surging run by Fàbregas earned a free kick almost 30 yards out which he sent narrowly wide. Then the captain set Bendtner free down the right flank, and the Danish striker curled in a deliciously inviting cross which van Persie, timing both his run into the box and his jump perfectly, met with a powerful header from five yards.

The goal effectively finished the match as a contest, and the visitors were rarely troubled in closing out the win. Although Arsenal had dominated for long spells at both ends of the game, Leeds had fully played their part in what had been a pulsating tie and a great advertisement for the FA Cup.

No surprise, then, that Wenger was pleased with both the result and the performance after the game:

We had both a good result and a good performance. We had quality in our attitude, spirit and focus. We started strongly and we played the football we like to play for the best part of the game. Leeds never gave up but we looked just too strong tonight for them. I think we got a warning in the first game and we [learnt] the lesson.

Although he recognised the outstanding contribution of Samir Nasri, he was keen to stress the overall quality of the team:

Samir played well tonight but the whole team played well and it’s difficult to single one player out. Everybody had a good performance.

Finally, he had these words of consolation for his Leeds counterpart Simon Grayson:

You have to give him credit for the way his team behaved in the two games. I think he organises them well, they have belief and when you look at what they produced I think they have a good chance to get into the [Championship] play-offs. We miss Leeds in the Premier League.

This was Arsenal’s second strong team performance in a row, following on from the 3-0 win at Upton Park. The back four were solid all night against a Leeds team who were always willing to commit bodies forward in attack. Song and Denilson were content to sit deep for the most part, and consequently controlled the middle of the park effectively, while the front four – both before and after the second half substitutions – consistently moved the ball quickly and cleverly, leaving Leeds chasing shadows for much of the game. Arshavin left his shooting boots at home, but his work-rate was much improved. Chamakh looked sharper than he has in recent weeks, although he remains short of his early season form. Nasri bossed the game in the first half, and Bendtner’s hard work throughout was rewarded by his role in the final goal. And Fàbregas and van Persie both made telling contributions off the bench. For once, even the most critical of Arsenal fans can have little to complain about.

Arsenal’s reward is a fourth round tie at home to Huddersfield on Sunday 30th, one of four straight games at the Emirates. Next up is Saturday’s game against Wigan, before the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Ipswich, in which Arsenal will need another performance like tonight’s if they are to overturn a 1-0 deficit and earn a trip to Wembley at the end of next month in pursuit of this season’s first trophy. For now, two bad games in a row have been followed by two good ones. Watching Arsenal can be frustrating at times, but it is never dull.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

7 Responses to Arsenal too good for Leeds in thrilling Cup replay

  1. Sheree says:

    It was a pleasure to watch. Arsenal played some sublime and entertaining football.

    • Tim says:

      Over the last two weeks we have gone from the ridiculous (Leeds, Ipswich) to the sublime (West Ham, Leeds). Who knows whether we will see Jekyll or Hyde on Saturday?

      Interesting acquisition by Monsieur Houllier this week …

      • Sheree says:

        I assume you mean Darren Bent. Let’s hope Gerard can unlock his undoubted potential otherwise he could be another Collymore.

  2. Tim says:

    Oh yes, Bent – I’d forgotten about Makoun. He’s a proven goalscorer – which Villa certainly need – but I find it hard to believe £18m rising to £24m represents value for money.

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