Lets face it, it was inevitable. Arsenal have some world class players and for the Gunners it told, as Leeds surrendered their FA Cup standing.
Having made it past a meek challenge at the Emirates library, Arsenal’s visit to Leeds brought the club’s support to Elland Road in their droves as many dreamt of a famous victory. Despite the usual repertoire of un-pc chants and volume inside the ground, the 12th man couldn’t spur the team to victory.
Like Tottenham the year previous, we had fought valiantly for a draw in north London and had set up a grandstand replay in Yorkshire. Like the year previous, the outcome was dissapointingly familiar as Premier League class swept aside the lower league challenge.
Arsenal started with much the same team as they had at the Emirates while Ben Parker continued at left back for the ineligible George McCartney, and Billy Paynter replaced the injured Luciano Becchio up front.
Right from Mike Dean’s first whistle, it was clear Arsenal weren’t going to hang around and after five minutes, Andrey Arshavin produced the only positive of his performance by playing in Samir Nasri who waltzed through an absent Leeds defence to slot home.
The crowd were momentarily silenced but not for long. If nothing else we had belief, blind as it may have been but we were damned if we were going to be silenced by the inhabitants of the north London library for long.
Despite the relentless Arsenal pressure, the crowd kept going while Kasper Schmeichel was producing heroics to keep the scoreline at one; brilliantly keeping out Marouane Chamakh’s downward header after the Arsenal forward rose completely unmarked from Nasri’s freekick.
Bendtner, Arshavin and Chamakh all squandered chances as Leeds struggled to get a look in as Schmeichel was again in action. For all their possession, Arsenal couldn’t hit the back of the net but goals were always in the offing.
After Bendtner somehow managed to miss from five yards from a Bacary Sagna cross, Sagna took matters into his own hands. With Parker nowhere to be seen at left back, Sagna’s rasping shot smashed into the top corner and it seemed the cup run would be over in all too familiar fashion.
Now apparently, Bradley Johnson has been practising shots in training. I don’t mean to be rude Bradders, it hasn’t exactly shown in recent years. If I’d been in the south stand, I would’ve ducked as Jonny Howson laid the ball off. Fair play though, it was a hell of a strike.
Howson’s perfect lay off – which Adrian Chiles was waxing lyrical about, sat wonderfully for Johnson, who took aim and fired. BANG. You don’t stop strikes like that; into the top corner it flew like a bullet and we were back in it.The celebrations were low key, Bradders himself looked emotionless. Probably just shocked it didn’t knock out a pensioner in row Z I’d imagine.
Leeds just about made it to half time but when the match restarted, Arsenal took a matter of seconds to test Schmeichel again and despite the roars from the crowd, Leeds were still struggling. Even Rob Snodgrass was kept busy defending, getting back to clear an Arshavin effort.
The light relief came as Arshavin provided Leeds fans with a more familiar Johnson effort, nicking the top of the ad hoardings on the south stand with what can only loosely be described as a shot.
It wasn’t long before Wenger had clearly had enough as he sent Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie in to finish the tie off and sure enough, Fabregas was at the centre of the action. Calmness personified as he picked off the Leeds defence and midfield with brilliantly executed passes. Leeds couldn’t get near him and were made to pay as he crossed to Bendtner whose flighted ball was met by a flying Van Persie to head past a helpless Schmeichel.
Despite a late rally which saw Schmeichel challenging Wojciech Szczesny from a Leeds corner. Unfortunately he couldn’t match Paul Robinson’s cup match heroics against Swindon in years gone by.
In the end, class told but there was unerring disappointment that we had surrendered so meekly having battled so valiantly at the Emirates. In the real world, Simon Grayson has once again proven he is a manager who commands respect and praise for dragging Leeds up the leagues into a position where we can match the best. That’s not to say we could cut it in the Premier League. 38 cup finals every week, lets not remember how bad Leeds are at them, eh.
There must be no hangover. There’s a league to win. (Haha) But seriously, the hangover was the most notable relic of the last cup run and while we’re not expected to walk this division, we must get back to concentrating on our bread and butter. We can still appreciate the fortunes of the run this year though, after all, it did pay for Andy O’Brien.
On on on!