As a relatively young Leeds United fan I had never really experienced the magic of the FA cup, until January the 3rd 2010. In recent memory we have been beaten by minnows in the cup and I will always remember the day when Cardiff beat us at Ninian Park, but recently we have taken the headlines for the right reasons.
Last season we pulled off one of the greatest FA cup shocks in history (most Man Utd fans will disagree) when we beat the 'scum' at Old Trafford. This year once again the FA cup was up to it's usual tricks, Leeds were given a tasty away tie to Arsenal. Last season I was unable to attend the match at Old Trafford due to working commitments, this season however I am a season ticket holder and booked my ticket within days of the fixture being announced.
This years FA cup 3rd round was played on the weekend of January 8th/9th and it started nice and early for me on Saturday for the trip down to North London. I was at Elland Road for around 5.30 am ready for the long, boring coach journey to Emirates hoping for something to cheer about. The match at the Emirates was a chance for me to experience my first away game and the new Gunners stadium.
Once we eventually got to London, FA cup fever had well and truly swept North London, with most Leeds fans taking over any pub they could find prior to kick-off. Finding the ground was a problem, poor parking facilities meant we were dropped off in a park and made to walk to the ground, however one highlight of this was the chance to see Highbury a stadium I never had the pleasure of visiting.
As a realistic Leeds fan I wasn't expecting to come away with anything, I would have been proud with the team trying their hearts out and still getting beat. As the referee signalled the start of the match I was expecting Arsenal to come out and attack from the off and test the Leeds defence which has been poor to say the least at times this season. Simon Grayson recalled Alex Bruce to the centre of defence to partner Andy O'Brien and on loan Arsenal youngster Sanchez Watt replaced Ross McCormack. Leeds went back to the familiar 4-5-1 in order to try and break up Arsenal's passing game.
Arsenal started the match in their typical style, with their slick passing and movement. Andrey Arshavin had the first real chance of the game when he was given the opportunity to be one-on-one with Kasper Schmeichel, but he buckled under the pressure and his shot was easily saved by Kasper. Arsenal dominated possession in the first 45 minutes, with Sebastien Squillaci coming close after he saw his header cleared off the line by Jonny Howson.
During the half-time interval I was content that Leeds had managed to defend well against one of the most dangerous sides within the Premier League. I was hopeful that we may be able to keep the performance up and do the unthinkable like we had done just over a year ago. The unthinkable did happen in the 54th minute when Max Gradel was bundled over by Denilson in the penalty area. Robert Snodgrass stepped up and converted the penalty to see the 9,000 travelling Leeds fans go wild in the Clock End.
Leeds looked confident after the goal and they showed that within their play, taking more chances going forward. Luciano Becchio nearly made it two but he saw his header, stopped by a superb diving save from Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal then had to call upon their 'big guns', both Fabregas and Walcott were brought on to try and salvage something for the North London club. Leeds used all three substitutes to quite literally 'park the bus' and they came within minutes of another famous victory in the FA cup.
Arsenal thought they had a penalty when Theo Walcott went down in the box, and from where I was stood it looked like it had been given. The linesman however had given offside and Leeds defender Alex Bruce was adamant he hadn't touched the England winger. Minutes later Arsenal were awarded a penalty, Ben Parker needlessly pulled back the dangerous Walcott with 60 seconds to go. Captain Cesc Fabregas stepped up and converted his penalty to save the day for Arsenal. There was to be one last chance for the Gunners, Denilson saw his powerful shot tipped wide of the post by the reliable Schmeichel.
Walcott has since admitted he dived for the first penalty claim, some say this is honest and admirable I personally think it is a disgrace and anyone cheating should be suspended, how you can admit to cheating with no punishment is beyond me. I wasn't going to let Walcott's actions spoil my day, Leeds had done themselves proud even though I couldn't help but feel gutted that we had come to close to another upset. Before the game I would have taken a draw, the replay means more revenue and money for the club, something I bet Ken Bates is delighted about. Once again Grayson's men showed their potential and the boys need to take confidence from this game, and let it motivate them for promotion from the Championship.
The coach journey home was a pleasant one, I had time to reflect on a fantastic day for myself, the club and the other travelling Whites who made the trip to the Emirates. Now though the attention must turn to back to the league and Scunthorpe, once that is over then the players can dream of a victory over Arsenal in front of a packed Elland Road.
My man of the match:
For me Kasper Schmeichel and Alex Bruce deserve to share the man of the match award, both played a crucial role in Leeds getting a draw at the Emirates.