Arsenal 1-1 Dirty Leeds United: Jailbreak

(All pictures - minus the Monopoly one above - courtesy The Guardian)

If the Wigan match was a draw that felt like a loss, this was a draw that felt like a win. However, there's a major difference between letting a match against Premier League opposition slip in a moment of defensive frailty and barely scraping a replay against a second-tier side who had barely threatened all afternoon. This time, it wasn't necessarily the amount of rotation that was the problem (with cup games flying at us from all angles, it is necessary to do so), it's more a reflection that some players have to have their suitability for our first team questioned - and one player in particular demonstrated YET FUCKING AGAIN that he should never have worn an Arsenal shirt once, let alone as often as he has.

As it stood, the starting lineup (Wojciech Szezcsny in goal; a back four of Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci and Emmanuel Eboue; Alex Song in the holding role, Tomas Rosicky and Denilson in the middle with Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner on the wings; Marouane Chamakh up top) should have been more than sufficient to see off this rabble...on our own goddamn patch to boot. It is understandable that these guys may be a tad rusty in some respects, as some have not played that many minutes recently. Then again, given that they are fighting for their places in the first team, one could reasonably expect that they would come out fired up and ready to prove they belong.

You would think, until you remember who it is we're talking about.

In fact, it was our opponents who made the first statement of intent with a direct run towards our penalty area by the feisty Sanchez Watt - a man who, by the way, is Arsenal property on loan with this mob. On one hand, I understand why Arsene Wenger let him play...a game against us is a fairly good litmus test. On the other, why fucking tempt fate by letting a kid with everything to prove play against us in a season where a trophy is a necessity? I just don't understand the decision-making that goes into things like this sometimes. Anyway, the Arsenal rearguard seemed taken aback by Watt's audacity, but luckily the lad had one moment of hesitation which allowed Squillaci to boot it away.

The gauntlet had been thrown, though. In response, Arsenal kept possession but seemed like a metronome that was one beat off once it got to the final third of the field. As usual, the approach play was decent but once it came time to beat a man or make that final pass, nothing came off.

The one time the pass worked, we were undone by a man whose confidence must be at rock bottom right now. Rosicky picked out a wonderful ball over the top of the Leeds defense, and in fairness to the guy, Arshavin did well to get on the end of it and stay clear of the defenders. However, his second touch was unforgivably poor, leaving him with no option but to shovel a weak shot directly at the onrushing Kasper Schmeichel. As I said on the Arseblog forums upon my return from the Pig, I am beyond fucking sick of the Schmeichel family playing blinders against us. That said, while the Dane did a nice job of cutting down the angle, you would have put money on Arshavin to score if he were in any kind of form. Frankly, this is now three or four glorious chances on the trot that he's made a total mess out of. But, what do you do with him? Benching him won't help his confidence any...but how much longer do you let him sabotage what offense we do muster in games that mean everything to our season? It's a decision that only the manager can make, and I don't envy his having to make it.

A few minutes later, it was our own keeper's turn to make a fine save. Robert Snodgrass, who was by far the most potent attacking threat for Leeds on the day, released Luciano Becchio with a good through-ball. Szczesny came haring off his line, and stopped the Argentine from sending a pass across the face of goal by toe-poking it away. In all likelihood, his intervention prevented Leeds from going up a goal at that stage.

The Gunners took back the momentum from that point, but rarely threatened the Leeds goal. One of the major problems was, frustratingly, Wenger chose to deploy Bendtner out on the wing once again...despite an encyclopedia's worth of evidence that HE ISN'T A FUCKING WINGER. I know I keep harping on it (usually in shouty all-caps), but have you ever seen a natural center-forward played out on the wing for any other team in any other situation? It's bloody maddening to see him cross poorly and fail to take on men out on the touchline, but can you really say it's his fault? If you take an accountant and ask him to effectively run the sales team, what do you suppose would happen to your company?

Despite that, Arsenal fashioned a decent chance at the 28' mark. A free kick was cleared out by the Leeds backline, but the Gunners got it back and fired it into the area again. Chamakh won the aerial battle and nodded it back to Arshavin just outside the area. The Russian's effort was much better this time, but in the end it was a fairly comfortable save for Schmeichel.

A minute later though, it got far less comfortable for the Dane. The Leeds defense was comfortable for long stretches of the contest, but this passage of play left them panicking and defending for their lives. Bendtner won a header off a corner (See? More his skill set), only to find it cleared juuuuust off the line. Song's follow-up was cleared for a corner, which Bendtner again won and again found it sliced away off the line. It was cleared only as far as Denilson, but once again that man Schmeichel was up to the task and got a strong hand to it.

Well, goddammit.

Leeds were able to recover somewhat after Arsenal's profligacy spared them in that last run of play, but the Gunners did get one more chance before the half. Bendtner cut inside, beat two men, and fired one on goal. It was a good hit, but Schmeichel did what his dad used to do to us, again getting down low to save the day. Seriously, a pox on their entire bloody family already.

That took us to halftime, and it couldn't have come soon enough for the visitors. The interval gave them some time to catch their breath, and upon the restart they were able to contain Arsenal far better than they had in the latter stages of the first half. Our boys still had more of the ball though, and Leeds never really looked like scoring.

Of course, the visitors then won a penalty kick.

See, here's the thing. I have always, even when he has scored the odd goal for us, been of the opinion that Denilson is the worst player to wear the Arsenal shirt since either Stathis Tavlaridis or Kaba Diawara. First off, he's a player without a natural position - he's too lightweight and adverse to contact to be a holding midfielder, but he doesn't have the ball skills or passing ability to be a winger or advanced center-mid. Second, how do I put this diplomatically? Oh, right, he's beyond lazy and flits his way through games in a manner that makes the current Arshavin look like a cross between Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira. Wasn't it a game against United last season where he could be seen jogging back like nothing was wrong as Wayne Rooney bore down on our goal one-on-one? Maybe it's one of my irrational biases, but I absolutely hate the guy and want to see him on Galatasaray or Panathinaikos at the earliest fucking opportunity.

Anyway, Max Gradel had run into our area, but there were defenders back and it wasn't all that dangerous of a situation. To give credit to Gradel, he did run at Denilson with purpose and made him make a decision (they must have scouted him well, then). Needless to say, the jackass clearly left a trailing leg out for no reason, giving Gradel all the opportunity he needed to fall over it for an absolute stonewall penalty. Snodgrass was the man to take it, and although his placement wasn't great, it had enough power behind it to go in despite the touch from Szczesny. Once again, we were 1-0 down to visitors that we should be destroying.

Changes were obviously needed, and credit to Wenger, the most important one came right afterward. On came The Captain, Cesc Fabregas. My issue though comes with who came off. Any one of the anonymous Arshavin, the out-of-position Bendtner or the shit-and-he-knows-he-is Denilson were prime candidates to come off. In fact, a case could be made for withdrawing all three at that moment. Instead, it was Song whose number came up, leaving all of us in the Pig scratching our heads. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?

One quick thing before moving on - before the numbers board even came up, Arshavin was already running to the sideline. Perhaps it's just his being bereft of confidence, but if he is so eager to leave the field in a moment where Arsenal needs any kind of spark it can get, serious questions have to be asked as to whether he should be benched or sold. Lack of confidence or not, that is gutless and inexcusable, and I can only hope someone had a word with him after the match.

The home side immediately looked more threatening, and should have equalized a minute or two later. I didn't catch who sent the cross in, but Chamakh was completely unmarked in the penalty area. You'd normally expect him to at least hit the target, but his header instead looped into low Earth orbit. A shocking miss from a man whose form has deserted him somewhat since his purple patch earlier in the season.

How costly a miss that could have been, as Leeds came down the other end and should have doubled their lead. They won a corner, and Becchio had completely eluded his marker in the penalty area (Go on, guess who his marker was? I'll give you a hint - he's Brazilian and he's useless). He thumped his header towards the low corner, but Szczesny made arguably the best save an Arsenal keeper has managed all season, leaping to his right to claw it away. That right there was the moment that kept us in the FA Cup, no doubt about it.

Another puzzling substitution came afterwards, and again it was not down to the man coming on. Theo Walcott made his way out onto the right wing, and again Arshavin trotted over to the sideline eager to bow out of the proceedings. However, it was Chamakh who was withdrawn. He didn't have the greatest of matches, but with three guys actively destroying our offensive thrust every time they touched the ball, I cannot possibly fathom why all three of them played all 90 minutes. It's seriously delusional, in my opinion.

With that change, Bendtner moved to his preferred center forward role with Walcott going to the right wing as mentioned. That gave us a more balanced shape, and it should have been rewarded with a penalty kick at the 72' mark. Not for the first time, referee Phil Dowd would draw the ire of Arsenal fans by refusing to give it. Some good work down the wing led to Walcott centering the ball for Bendtner, and Andy O'Brien's tackle looked to have gotten the man rather than the ball. Dowd wasn't impressed, and play went on.

Maybe that spooked Leeds manager Simon Grayson a bit, as he took Watt off for Leigh Bromby, going more to a 5-4-1. Whatever counter-attacking threat Leeds had was essentially gone at that point, with the extra defender apparently the signal to his side to bunker in and try to preserve the lead (they almost managed it, too). In response, Wenger made his last change taking off Rosicky for Carlos Vela. Maybe it was the hideously-early kickoff, but I don't remember Vela touching the ball or making any kind of contribution when he came on. In his defense, it could be though that a lot of our attacks came through Walcott from that point on.

Time ran down, and the mood in the Pig became increasingly glum. It's one thing going out of the Cup, but to do so to a band of hopeless triers like this, at home, because of Yet Another Stupid Denilson was going to be a tough one to swallow. So, imagine our fury when a penalty was first awarded to us at the 88' mark, and then immediately rescinded. In fairness, Walcott later admitted that he dove to won it, but it was taken away because it seems Dowd doesn't know how this is supposed to work. Walcott went over a challenge from Ben Parker in the area, and the ball came out to Bendtner who was in an offside position. The way I understand it though, because the foul came first, the penalty should have been given. Instead, Dowd changed his mind and awarded a goal kick...the plonker.

At the very least, he got it right a minute later. Leeds were all over the shop a bit at this point, and this time the penalty was given when Walcott was once again fouled in the area. Good thing he came on, because he was the only one troubling the United defense in the second half. Fabregas took the responsibility of keeping us in the Cup, and admittedly his kick was not a great one, going right down the middle. Luckily, Schmeichel had already vacated the center of his net, having guessed with a dive to his right. They're all great penalties when they go in however, and Arsenal were finally level in the 89th minute.

A replay was looking imminent, but in fact Arsenal had two glorious chances to win it that were thrown away in typical Gunners fashion. Fabregas won the ball in the center of the park and launched a beautiful long ball over the Leeds defense. Bendtner did the hard bit, running onto it and firing at goal. Sadly, he didn't even test Schmeichel, as his shot went risibly wide. Right afterwards, Denilson managed to do one thing right and fire a hard, accurate shot on net from outside the area. The Dane repelled us once again though, sealing a replay at Elland Road for his side.

What else can you say about this? It was in retrospect a better effort from our B-team than it had seemed in the sleepless haze of Saturday morning, with quite a few scoring chances created. The frustration once again comes from our inaccuracy in front of net combined with the typical defensive mistake (perpetrated by a man who shouldn't be within 9 postal codes of our first team). It goes without saying that with an already-daunting fixture list, a replay in the FA Cup was not wanted or needed. However, it's now necessary, so all the team can do now is get their heads down and get on with it.

The League Cup match against Ipswich is going to be very interesting, now. Roy Keane has been fired, leaving them managerless. Oh, and they also got rogered 7-0 by Chelsea at their place earlier today, so they're going to be a bit downhearted by the result. At this point, they are beyond there for the taking, in a competition that we absolutely must win. An effort like what was provided yesterday could well let Ipswich get some of their confidence back, and any kind of negative result could potentially derail our season. I'm not saying we need to match the Rent Boys' scoreline, but a solid, professional job is required...and I don't think Arshavin, Bendtner or Denilson are the men for that job at this moment.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 7, Djourou 7, Squillaci 7, Eboue 6, Arshavin 5, Song 6 (Fabregas 7), Rosicky 6 (Vela N/A), Denilson 3, Bendtner 5, Chamakh 5 (Walcott 8 - MOTM)