Van Persie strikes late to help Gunners see off battling Leeds
As this pulsating FA Cup tie drew to a close, as Arsenal finally withstood the magnificent resistance of Simon Grayson's men, Elland Road reverberated to a chorus of "we're Leeds and we're proud of it".
Whatever the disappointment of bowing out of the Cup, particularly after Bradley Johnson's stunning strike had made it 2-1, a perform-ance full of belief should give Leeds hope for the future.
They had refused to surrender when Samir Nasri and Bacary Sagna guided Arsenal into a seemingly untouchable lead. They had revelled in the goal shortly before half-time from Johnson, a sweet moment for the midfielder having been released by Arsenal as a teenager.
But then came Robin van Persie, heading in Nicklas Bendtner's excellent cross. Yet Leeds still refused to go quietly. Arsenal now play Huddersfield Town at the Emirates, doubtless stirring plenty of Herbert Chapman retrospectives, while Leeds resume their promotion campaign, trying to ensure they face Nasri and his gilded ilk on a regular basis.
Leeds' gameplan had been to press, but Arsenal simply played around them, gliding into the lead within six minutes. Until Johnson's sensational response, Nasri ran the first-half show, immediately showing his class when running through on goal.
Nasri captained the visiting side, acquiring the armband with Cesc Fabregas starting on the bench, and the Frenchman certainly led by example. The build-up to Nasri's 14th goal of the season was typically Arsenal, the ball swept to receptive feet, starting with Kieran Gibbs, then Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh, who worked the ball to Nasri. He floated through, waiting for Kaspar Schmeichel to commit himself before rolling it past the keeper and in: 0-1.
Arsenal's control was soon confirmed with a second goal. Sagna began and finished the move, winning the ball in midfield and inviting Bendtner to charge through the middle.
Chamakh took over as Bendtner continued his run. Having received the ball back, Bendtner overran it, giving Andy O'Brien a chance to clear.
Unfortunately for Leeds, the ball flew only as far as Sagna. Steaming in at pace, Sagna arrived like a latter-day Carlos Alberto, belting the ball past Schmeichel: 0-2.
It seemed all over. The presses prepared to roll on the obituaries of Leeds' Cup fortunes for another year. Arsenal looked so in control.
The ball seemed to belong to Nasri. But Grayson's passion-players, marvellously, had other ideas. Jonny Howson, a local lad responding to the adrenalin shots pumped from the terraces, never stopped believing. Leeds' captain found possession and drove through midfield, narrowly avoiding a high-speed lunge from Denilson.
He laid the ball off to his accom-plice in central midfield, Johnson, whose response was majestic, the ball drilled past startled goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny from fully 30 yards: 1-2.
Game on? Elland Road believed. Even when Arsenal began pouring forward again after the break, when Schmeichel saved from Alex Song, Leeds fans still believed.
Even when Robert Snodgrass somehow got back to nick the ball away from the threatening Arshavin, Leeds fans still believed they could overturn this.
But then Fabregas got on the ball, sending Bendtner down the right and the Dane really delivered, hoisting a superb cross to the far post.
There was Van Persie, rising high, meeting the ball perfectly, sending it speeding back past Schmeichel and in for the clincher: 1-3. (© Daily Telegraph, London)