Leeds evoke spirit of past to give Gunners real scare
Arsenal 1 Leeds United 1
Published 09/01/2011 | 05:00
This was a throwback. A tie that evoked memories; a tie that showed a deep commitment to this old competition; a tie that pitted two great clubs against each other; and a tie that ended in a replay.
In front of the Clock End, Leeds turned back time. Robert Snodgrass drove home the penalty that put them within touching distance of another great cup upset. It took Arsenal, drawing deep from reserves of desire, until 30 seconds from the end of the 90 minutes to draw level -- a penalty of their own swept into the net by substitute Cesc Fabregas. They will both have to go again in nine days' time at Elland Road and although the cup exertions of last season -- knocking out Manchester United, taking Spurs to a replay -- almost derailed Leeds' promotion campaign from League One, the club has pushed on since then with a burgeoning belief.
The occasion, bringing back reruns of that Centenary Cup final -- conjuring names such as Jones and Clarke, McLintock and a certain Pat Rice -- and a host of battles down the years, wasn't the only retro notion. In Schmeichel and Bruce there were two warrior names of more recent times that have thwarted Arsene Wenger.
"Maybe these two names want to make my life difficult forever," the Arsenal manager joked. It was Kasper and Alex -- rather than Peter and Steve -- the sons of the former Manchester United pair who produced standout performances within a Leeds team that showed the kind of belief, tactical aggression and determination that, if they do reach the Premier League, will prove an addition to the top flight.
Wenger paid tribute to that and was right to do so. "They were very aggressive but in a good way," he explained. "It was important for us to keep the momentum and not go out today because it would have been a shocker." A shocker indeed. He had rung the changes -- nine in all -- but this was a strong team. Arsenal didn't want a replay and appeared set to blow Leeds away with a whirlwind five minutes in the first half.
First Schmeichel blocked Andrei Arshavin's half-volley, then Sebastien Squillaci steered the ball past the goalkeeper only for Jonny Howson to clear off the line, then Denilson's fierce shot was pushed away and finally Luciano Becchio hoofed out another header from Squillaci. It was frantic stuff. But Leeds threatened also, with Wojciech Szczesny racing to smother Becchio as he latched on to Snodgrass's clever pass. On half-time, Schmeichel was alert again, holding on to Nicklas Bendtner's angled shot. Surely it would only be a matter of time before Arsenal did score? But, instead, Leeds redoubled their efforts and then took the lead.
Snodgrass was picked out by Bruce and he cleverly played the ball inside to Max Gradel. Into the area, the winger cut across Denilson and was crudely upended. Later Fabregas gave a withering verdict on his team-mate's challenge. "When you are a professional footballer you cannot risk these types of penalties," he said.
Snodgrass's effort was struck hard and low and although Szczesny got a hand to it, he was beaten. Wenger reacted by bringing on first Fabregas and then Theo Walcott but -- in the game's pivotal moment -- it was Szczesny, saving superbly from Becchio's header, who kept Arsenal in contention.
Fabregas quickened the pace; Walcott used his pace. Put clear, he failed to lift the ball over Schmeichel and then came the tale of two penalties -- one given, then not given and another given and taken. First Walcott appeared to be caught by Bruce but referee Phil Dowd eventually signalled for an offside -- but didn't that come later? -- and then Ben Parker was rightly penalised for a tug on Walcott. Fabregas scored.
In injury-time, Bendtner volleyed wastefully wide and Schmeichel saved magnificently from Denilson to secure the replay. Anything short of that would have been unjust.
"I've immense pride in what the players have done," said Leeds manager Simon Grayson. "Hopefully one day we will be playing in these arenas on a regular basis."
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