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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Leeds Utd v Arsenal 19th Jan 2011

A full moon was shining ominously in the frosty sky as I battled with the M60 and M62 to get to the Theatre of Hope for the highly anticipated replay with Arsenal.  A quick portion of pie and peas washed down by a pint of Boddy's in Bates' tent helped banish any thoughts of the working day and focus my mind on the main question of the day...............could Leeds re-ignite their cup fighting spirit once again and vanquish Arsene's footballing aristocrats? It was clearly a tall order given the fire power Arsenal can boast so key to the night's proceedings was always going to be exactly who's names were on the team sheets. My usual optimistic view on all things Leeds took a bit of a dip as news of the teams filtered through.  Becchio hadn't recovered from his injury and so the hard working Mr Paynter would step into the breach.. Can't imagine that Arsene Wenger would be too unhappy with that bit of information and when he trumped our Billy Paynter with Samir Nasri on their team sheet I sort of knew it was going to be a difficult night.  A bit like when we played Liverpool in the Carling Cup and midway through the 2nd half 4 subs were warming up ready to come on............Torres and Gerrard for the scousers matching big Enoch and Robbo for the mighty whites!

The compliment that Arsenal had paid Leeds by selecting a strong line up plus the donkey that is Bendtner (Woody from Toy Story) tempered our predictions.  The Quiet One plumped for a realistic 3.0 to the Arse whilst I went with my heart and had Leeds coming back after an early Arse goal to force extra time.  We joined the 38,000 fans in the Elland Road cauldron ready for the kick off.  The atmosphere can only be described as frenzied anticipation.  A louder than usual rendition of MOT set the tone and the game was under way.  In the first game Arsenal were quickly out of the blocks and so it was this time.  Their skill on the ball is mesmerising at times as they play a sweet passing game where the ball is not allowed to leave the grass.  I am sure the frowning frog, Wenger, will have sent his team out with the instruction to try and quieten the crowd in the first 10 minutes and they did just that within 5 minutes as a trademark passing move cut through Leeds like a knife through butter leaving Nasri one on one with Kasper a contest that was heavily loaded towards the opinionated Arsenal striker.  He coolly slotted the ball into the net to give the Arse the lead. One nil to the Arsenal.  A momentary silence amongst the Leeds faithful was soon replaced by a defiant chant of "we are Leeds"  The next twenty minutes were a footballing masterclass from Arsene's foreign legion as they created numerous chances to extend their lead and kill the tie.  The home defence were battling hard but for the most part they were chasing shadows as Nasri, Song, Chamahk and Sagna enjoyed themselves at Leeds expense. Kapser showed his class with some fine saves, none better than the one that kept out a header from Chamahk that drew comparisons with the famous Gordon Banks save from Pele.  At this point our only hope was that Ee Aw Bendtner was still on the pitch and disrupting the away sides smooth play.  How an earth he has got a contract with Arsenal is beyond me?  Maybe he should go on loan to Barnet.

The hope that I had started the match with was slowly draining away as the gulf in class between the two sides was increasingly evident to see.  But they were still only one nil up I reminded HC.  Cue another goal.  This time Sagna took advantage of hesitant defending to strike a thunderbolt shot unchallenged past a helpless Kasper. Two nil to the Arsenal.  Things were not looking good.

When Bradley Johnson refused the offer of a new contract and indicated, or should I say his agent indicated, his desire to play at a higher level the vast majority of Leeds fans scoffed (that's being kind).  Since then though his game has improved beyond recognition and tonight he was reaching new levels of achievement as he shone in an overwhelmed home midfield against the star studded Arsenal quartet.  And it was Bradders who gave Leeds a glimmer of hope as he struck a quite stunning 25 yard shot that rifled into the very top corner of the net. Two one to the Arsenal and the decibel level cranked up another three notches.  Suddenly it was Arsenal who were looking unsteady as Leeds sensed an opportunity to drag them selves back into the tie.  This had shades of the replay with Spurs as we  finished the half on a high and the team left the field to a well deserved ovation.  Seeing messrs Van Persie, Wilshire, Diver Walcott and Fabregas troop off from the bench gave a stark reminder of the Herculean task still facing Leeds.  Still we were only a goal behind.

The half time optimism was soon punctured as Arsenal waltzed through the Leeds defence with ease only for the Dashing Dane, Kasper to deny them once again.  Leeds were still digging in and attacking when Arsenal got fed up of passing the ball for fun and allowed them a chance.  Billy Paynter so nearly turned in a superb cross from the illusive Gradel.  Hopes were raised again of an unlikely equaliser.  O'Brien went down injured and had to be replaced by Bromby.  Shortly after that Van Persie and Fabregas came on for the last 20 minutes.  Come on Mr Wenger that's just not fair!  They soon showed their class against a tiring Leeds side.  Ben Parker in particular looked to be suffering and it was his misplaced pass that led to the third and decisive goal.  Woody for once made the most of the space and delivered a pin point cross for Van Persie to head home unchallenged.  Game over. Three one to the Arsenal.

There was still time for a final flurry from Leeds.  Kasper came up for a corner and so nearly connected with a header that would have lifted the roof off Elland Road. But the game ended with Arsenal progressing to the next round to play the the Tesco Bags from the Galpharm.  Bradders stood out for Leeds tonight along with Kasper in goal.  The team battled well and the fans roared them on but in the end Arsene's team proved one of my old sayings correct...........form is temporary but class is permanent.........and Arsenal are a class side, Bendtner apart.  Whilst we are well in the mix for promotion this season this game was a stark reminder of what awaits us in the Premier League.  The gulf in class was apparent..........didn't stop me winding some Arsenal fans up on the way out though........."pity Grayson didn't play his strongest team, we might have won" I commented to HC.  The Gooners took the bait............."I thought you did have your strongest team out"....."Nah he rested Becchio and he scores more goals than Berbatov"

Anyhow its the big game on Saturday, Portsmouth away.  I expect Lord Larry to put his full team out for that one.  Seat belts on and oxygen masks at the ready we're approaching the long run in to the promotion bun fight.  Who needs the cup anyway?
Can't wait.

Leeds 1 v 3 Arsenal 19/1/2011

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