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.