Arsenal 1 – 0 Leeds United
1 – 0 Henry (78)
Arsenal progressed to a fourth round tie against Aston Villa with a blast from the past, history relived and a million headlines written. Proclamations of inevitability about the goal were too much but let us not kid ourselves, it was wonderful for a forward to come onto the pitch with some sort of hope or expectation of a goal.
The joy of the moment, the release of nervous energy and unbridled elation of the moment erupted in any heart carved of red and white; the years rolled away as Song slid the ball through the line of defenders, the left edge of the penalty melted as Henry’s body shape dictated where the shot was going and inevitably ended. This was Arsenal’s Sex Pistols at Manchester Free Trade Hall moment.
Yet it need not have been the defining moment of the night, simply the crowning glory. Arsène was true to his word and fielded a strong side. The defence was makeshift and even the inclusion of two callow full backs and Sebastian Squillaci could not cause the shipping of goals. Arsenal were simply too strong for Leeds.
Aaron Ramsey dominated the proceedings from the kick-off but Andrey Arshavin threatened to take the headlines, shooting wide inside five minutes and high shortly after; his accuracy was improving. Such was Arsenal’s dominance that Sebastien Squillaci provided a goal threat of more potency than anything Samir Nasri could manage yet still the ball evaded the back of the net.
Twice midway through the half, Arsenal might have taken the lead. Crisp passing across the baize allowed Ramsey a sight of goal, his effort looping over following a deflection before Arteta clipped the post. Leeds offered precious little before Becchio shot over and not much after.
A procession of chances went begging as Coquelin retired injured, the curse of the left back position etching a route across the defence. The clamour to dispense with Squillaci’s services this Winter may be quelled knowing that he is one of the few fit defenders at the club.
The second half started with a renewed vigour from the home side. Deliberacy in his effort almost rewarded Oxlade-Chamberlain, his effort fizzing into the sidenetting. He was not the only one who relished the second period. Having gone close as the first half drew to a close, the interval revived Arshavin but still the end product was missing as he volleyed and shot wide on separate occasions.
For all of Arsenal’s efforts, few had forced Lonergan to do anything other than scramble across his goal to make sure that shots missedthe target. That changed as the hour mark approached, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s drive blocked by The Peacocks ‘keeper.
And then Henry arrived, Theo Walcott providing a cameo in the same spell, Rupert Grint accompanied Harry Potter into the fray. The goal arrived and briefly brought Leeds attack to life, McCormack spurning the best chance for another late and unlikely equaliser in a cup-tie between the two sides.
Chamakh’s departure for the African Cup of Nations came on a relative high. He worked hard, perhaps relishing the opportunity to get some match fitness before the tournament. If the interruption provides a spark of confidence, Arsenal will benefit. His contribution was more evident than others. Park’s absence from action has been explained, his acute narcolepsy meant that he could not be roused for a substitute appearance.
Much of the post-match focussed on Henry. Wenger’s enthusiasm for the subject shows that his admiration for the player has not been dimmed through absence. A weight has been lifted with Henry’s “debut” and replaced by the millstone of expectation. Wenger suggests why the player is capable of reacting positively to that,
Thierry is a proud guy, he does not want to disappoint people. He knows he will be compared to what he has done before. That is what champions are about. They always say ‘I have no pressure’, but they want to be seen as people who do well. It is a kind of a comeback and you know you want that to be a success as a player.
Talk of starting places is surely premature and robs Wenger of options in future matches. And in any case, who wants to talk of the what might be, just enjoy the moment.
All that remains is to point you in the direction of the newest addition to the ACLF blog family, Arsenal On This Day. From one legend to another.