Remembering, of course, that we were drawn against these exact opponents in the same stage of the FA Cup, during the same time-frame a year ago – plenty has changed for both sides since we huffed and puffed to a 1-1 home draw, before winning the replay 3-1 at Elland Road.
We, of course, has seen the departures of our former number four – who had to come off the bench and convert the late penalty which gave us a 1-1 in the original tie – and Nas; as well as a new first choice goalkeeper and a few new additions courtesy of the Summer transfer window, and the loan return of our all-time record goal scorer, now wearing the number 12, vice his previous 14…
Leeds also returned with a somewhat different side. Injury ruled out starters Snodgrass, Howson and Kisnorbo, while the player who really caught my eye during last year’s ties, Max Gradel, departed for St. Etienne this past August. Promotion is surely the primary objective for Leeds again – kinda like us and the top four – but I would not discount a good result being viewed as a jump-start, as Leeds’ recent run of has seen them slip out of the promotion play-off spots.
In the buildup, Arsene indicated that Robin – currently away and resting in Dubai – would not be available, but that a strong squad will still be picked.
We lined up Szczesny, Coq, Squil, Kos, Miquel, Song, Arteta (tonight’s Captain), Ramsey, OC, Chamakh and Arsh.
Martinez, Yennaris, Benny, Theo, Miyaichi, Thierry and Ju made our bench.
A rest for Mert (replaced by Squil), Theo to the bench, and otherwise as strong a side as we can probably field, factoring in suspensions (JD), injuries (TV), and tournaments (Gerv to ACN). Rookie Martinez was named as the second goalkeeper, all but verbally confirming there is no place for Almunia at this club…
We kicked the match off and started quickly, passing the ball around well. Arsh tried a couple of early shots, neither of which troubled Lonergan in the Leeds goal. Just five minutes in, Chamakh found Arsh in a great position – unmarked, no less – with a fine pass, but the latter completely wasted it, sending a dreadful effort over the bar.
Squil was the next player to squander a good chance, with a quarter of an hour gone. Chamakh teed him up with an excellent free kick, but the defender could only head wide.
I suppose it’s better than heading it directly to Zamora in our area, but…I thought we had bought Chamakh to be the player to get on the end of these type free-kicks – while it was admittedly a good delivery, surely he would be better used in the box as a target for these kicks…
A minute later, Ramsey had a pop following a good run; he got his effort closer than either Arsh or Squil, but not close enough. Leeds then got their first real attack going, as we looked shaky from a free-kick. Vayrynen’s initial shot was blocked, but we could not clear, allowing Becchio to collect. Fortunately, his finishing matched Arsh’s, going wastefully high.
In the next sequence, Chamakh somehow missed an open net from just a couple of yards out. It wouldn’t have counted, as OC was wrongly whistled for a foul earlier in the move, but still…
Just before the half hour mark, we received yet another injury blow…This time Coq pulled up clutching his hammy. Arsene quickly replaced him with Yennaris, as our injury problems in defence show no signs of abating. An early, unwanted substitution, with no defenders remaining on the bench…
The match continued its pattern: we kept the ball, showed decent – albeit slow – build-up, and inevitably saw the move break down through a poor shot or poor decision. Leeds spent little time with the ball and posed virtually no threat. But neither did we, for that matter…
A few minutes before the interval, O’Dea earned the game’s first booking for fouling Chamakh. Arteta took the free-kick, but Leeds cleared with no difficulty. Then Ramsey tried another long-range shot. This one deflected off White for a corner, but Squil once put a poor header wide.
The whistle went a few second later.
There were no other changes as Leeds kicked the second half off. OC tried to get us going with a quick early shot, but couldn’t hit the target. We then forced a couple of corners – which we couldn’t convert – as we continued to see most of the ball and do all the attacking.
Leeds countered and won themselves a corner, but did nothing with it…Then we attacked, and then the move broke down – and on, and on, and…
It took 55 minutes for either keeper to have to make a save, and Lonergan was the first up. Chamakh fed Arteta, who shot towards goal, but didn’t get enough on it, and the Leeds custodian had to stretch, but saved without much difficulty. As the match passed the hour mark, the monotonous pattern continued…
OC was probably our best player up to this point, and he woke the crowd up with a fierce shot which forced Lonergan into a more difficult save. So naturally, OC is the first attacking player Arsene substitutes, with Theo – who could probably use a full game’s rest – coming on for him…
This happened in the 68th minute, as part of a double switch…
The moment most of us Gooners awaited came simultaneously, with Thierry getting his first action of his second stint, replacing the yet-again-ineffective-Chamakh. As the match entered the final 20 minutes, Brown fouled Theo to concede a free kick, which Arteta wasted with a poor delivery.
We then forced a pair of corners, which…well, you can guess what we didn’t do with either.
Just when a dour 0-0 and unwanted replay loomed, we made the breakthrough.
Song, who did little prior to this point, sent an excellent through ball into the box, Thierry slipped away from Thompson and shot across Lonergan into the far corner for 1-0, his first goal of his second spell with us, and his 175th (competitive) in Arsenal colours.
Almost immediately after the goal, Szczesny had to save from Brown, just about the first involvement for our keeper with almost 80 minutes gone. McCormack, who replaced Becchio a few minutes before we scored, couldn’t convert a good, headed chance.
Arsh had at least two good chances to put the game away but continued his woeful finishing and let Leeds off the hook.
Szczesny then had to save Forsell’s close range shot as we reached the 90 minute mark. Arsh then got our first booking two minutes into stoppage time for fouling Brown.
The full time whistle went about two minutes later, and we advanced to a fourth round tie with Aston Villa…
Some would say this is like old times, what with Thierry saving our bacon. I don’t think it is such an exaggeration to suggest that he, in 25-odd minutes of action, contributed as much as both Chamakh and Arsh have for the entire calendar year of 2011.
Arsh stayed on the pitch for the entire way, but I thought he was one of our worst players on the night, particularly with his finishing.
As welcome as Thierry’s goal is, it has to be said that this was a poor, poor performance.
We looked like we reverted to some prior bad habits, such as aimless, over-passing, slow build-up, and wasteful finishing. Collective energy looked low and despite having a relatively strong side out there, we didn’t impress.
Thierry will be the story – and rightly so – but I don’t think we can simply brush off our unimpressive overall effort this evening…
In fact, we haven’t really played well for a string of a few matches now. We squeaked wins over QPR and now Leeds, dropped points at home versus Wolves and lost at Fulham. Injuries certainly contribute – we have not played with a natural or recognized (as in acknowledged primary position) full-back for several matches and that has certainly hurt our attacking play and weakened our depth in the defensive positions but that is not the whole story.
Arsh and Chamakh have shown – yet again – that they cannot be trusted to deliver and neither Ju nor Miyaichi even got a look in.
Despite fielding our starting midfield trio, there was very little creativity from them, other than Song’s assist for the winner.
In 25 minutes of play, Thierry has probably made himself our impact sub until his loan expires and this is not only due to his goal but also because we don’t get much from our other options. Most of them either don’t deliver when called upon, or don’t even get called upon…
So once again we are hitting a New Year lull.
We can only hope that our starters don’t burn themselves out, leading to another March/April collapse. A lot can change, especially when we start getting our injured players back but at this very moment, I am not particularly encouraged by what I see from our team.
I think we are fully capable of pulling it back together and going on another run, but we need to get positive contributions from many more players than what we are currently getting.
now, we can all enjoy advancing to the FA Cup fourth round and a feel-good story with Thierry’s goal on his return. Hopefully there will be more to come from him, and his presence will help our other players lift their games.
Once again, Welcome Home!
Written by Oliver