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Match Preview: Leeds United v Arsenal - An interview with Arsenal Offside

For this match preview today, I will be looking ahead at tomorrow's game at Elland Road and I have been lucky enough to speak to Martin from Arsenal Offside to get his opinions on all things Arsenal as well as his thoughts about the replay.

Last week at the Emirates Leeds were fantastic, they took the game to Arsenal and were very unlucky not to come away with a victory. Unfortunately for Leeds they conceded a 90th minute penalty and Cesc Fabregas converted under pressure to save Arsenal's blushes and earn them a replay back at our place tomorrow evening. The winner of the replay will then face Huddersfield Town at either the Emirates or Elland Road.


Team News

Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will keep his place in goal for the third-round replay due to regular stopper Lukasz Fabianski's shoulder problem. Szczesny was solid last time out against the Whites, his save from Luciano Becchio probably saved Arsenal from defeat. Right-back Bakary Sagna will also be available for selection, now that he has completed his suspension and Tomas Rosicky will also be in contention after the midfielder recovered from a virus. Aaron Ramsey could also appear at Elland Road in his first match for Arsenal since breaking his leg against Stoke, and Nicklas Bendtner may be back up front for the Gunners.

Leeds striker Luciano Becchio may have to sit out the replay on Wednesday due to a back problem which he picked up in the 4-0 win over Scunthorpe at the weekend.


It is rumoured that Wenger might be using the same team that he used in the last leg, which could give Leeds the advantage we need. Hopefully Bendtner will be up front again as last time out he was wasteful, and lacked composure in front of goal. Rosicky was also poor against Leeds but he has the quality to punish us, Howson and Johnson will need to be at their best to halt the midfield. With Becchio possibly a doubt for the match it may give one of our other strikers a chance to shine and grab the headlines. The most like-for-like replacement would be Billy Paynter but he has failed to score for the Whites and we need to take any chances we may get tomorrow.


Right has I said earlier in the post I did an interview with Martin from Arsenal Offside - one of the most successful blog's on this site. He took time out to answer my questions on Arsenal and the upcoming match between Leeds and Arsenal:

Do Arsenal have a chance of winning the Premier League this season or will they flop again?

Well, we have a chance. We're just 2 points behind Manchester United, although they have a game in hand against Blackpool that they'll probably win, so functionally it's 5 points. But our big hope is the fixture list. United have to play Manchester City, Chelsea twice, at Liverpool, and they have to play us at the Emirates. And they have drawn nearly all of their away matches so far, so they really could drop a lot of points down the stretch. Meanwhile, we played most of the big teams away the first half of the season -- we have Manchester United and Liverpool at home, and Tottenham away is our toughest remaining league fixture. Manchester City are 2 points up on us but we've got a game in hand, but I still think we will overtake them. So we're still in it. We have 4 of our next 5 league matches at home, so this next month is huge for us -- we really need to focus on taking 3 points from every single match and putting as much pressure on Manchester United as we can. This is probably the best chance we've had in some time, though. I think Manchester City are not quite elite yet, although they seem to be on their way, Spurs are good but still Spurs, and Manchester United and Chelsea are much more vulnerable than they've been in recent seasons. If we get a decent run of games and keep key players healthy, there's no reason why we can't win our first league title since 2004 this season.

Arsene Wenger's policy is to not spend money and go with the players he has nurtured since they were young, do Arsenal fans want to see more money being spent?

Most people do, yeah. But it's a bit short-sighted, I think. I think Wenger has been working under more financial constraints than most realize due to the enormous debt the club incurred building the new stadium. But we've been paying the debt off way ahead of schedule due to Wenger's frugality, and our operating income has risen dramatically the last few seasons. We may not have won trophies the last few seasons, but keeping the team in the Champions League on a relatively tight budget has set the club up as one of Europe's true giants. And that will be Wenger's true legacy, I think -- he's the guy who transformed Arsenal from a pretty big English club into one of the true big European giants. The trophies will come, and fans may just have to keep being patient for a few years or so.

What is the aim this season, Premier League or any trophy just to stop the five year wait?

Both? It's a tough question to answer. The League is always the priority, but now that we're so close in the League Cup, I think fans have really turned their attention to that as well. I think a lot of people think that the problem with this team is largely mental, and that if we could just win a trophy, that would flip a switch in the players' psyche and give them that extra edge to perform in big pressure situations that they've lacked the last few seasons. In reality, it's much more complicated than that, of course, and it may not make a huge difference, but I think most of us feel like one trophy could help us turn the corner, even if it is "only" the League Cup. So I don't really know how to choose -- we want both, and one of the nice things about being such a big club is we have the depth to have a go in every competition.

Your fans have taken some abuse from Leeds fans, are they too quiet at home and why the lack of atmosphere?

Yeah, it's not as loud as a lot of stadiums. But I'm honestly not quite sure why Arsenal gets this reputation, and clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United don't -- they both have big stadiums that can get awfully quiet, too. I think it's mainly just down to money -- the Emirates is a lot more spacious than Highbury was, so the noise doesn't get trapped in as tight a space. And they have, frankly, priced a lot of working-class fans, who tend to be a little bit louder and rowdier, out of going to matches. Another issue seems to be that as of now, there's not a single section where the real shouting/singing die-hards congregate, and I think a lot of people are self-conscious about being the only one in their section singing. But I'm not worried about that in this one -- our away support has been amongst the very best in football all season long, and I think we'll travel well for this one. You'll hear us.


Do you see Wenger resting any players for the match due to the Premier League responsibilities?

I do. We've got 9 matches between now and the end of February, and with our notoriously fragile players and history of suffering bad injuries around this time of year, I think Wenger may need to prioritize, and if he does, this may be the match to do it. I suspect players like Cesc, Theo, van Persie, Song, Clichy, and Nasri may very well get a break on Wednesday. But that still leaves us with Chamakh, Arshavin, Rosicky, Bendtner, and the like to play, so it's not like we'll be throwing out our Reserves or Academy side -- all of those guys have played in some big matches and have international experience. Fortunately for you guys, though, our second XI has been inexplicably woeful since the start of the year, so that may really present a big opening.

What is your opinion on Leeds, are we "scum" like most say or do we deserve to be back at the top after our fall from grace?

I actually have a soft spot for Leeds, based mainly on my experience playing with them on Football Manager 2009. Which is a dumb reason, I know. I don't know, I can't speak for anyone but myself on this, but I don't have a problem with Leeds. I generally don't like it when teams throw money around disproportionate to how big they actually are (i.e., Manchester City), because I think it's bad for the game, and Leeds in the early part of the last decade were a prime example of that. But it's hard to hate the club when it paid such a heavy price for the fiscal mismanagement and irresponsibility, and the fans who stuck with the club through the hard times and demotions deserve some success. You have cool kits, too. I wouldn't mind a bit seeing Leeds return to the Premiership.

Any Leeds players that impressed you during the first leg against Arsenal?

Hmmm...well, Schmeichel was fantastic, but that didn't surprise me. I remember him being a cracker jack keeper a few years ago at Manchester City, and it always puzzled me why more Premiership clubs didn't go after him when he left. Alex Bruce seemed on the verge of getting turned around or exposed so many times, but really impressed with his timing -- made a bunch of last-ditch tackles that showed a lot of grit and intelligence. I liked Jonny Howson a lot -- that dude seems like a warrior, really frustrated our midfield and has a bright future, I think. Becchio seemed relatively quiet for our match, but I know he's one to watch for. Max Gradel looks like a skilled guy who can cause defenses a lot of problems, would be surprised if he isn't playing at the highest level, either with Leeds or someone else, within the next few years. And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that our boy Sanchez Watt actually had a very good game -- Arsenal doesn't televise Reserves fixtures any more, so I actually hadn't gotten to watch him play that much, but he really looked good.


You play fantastic football at Arsenal but do you agree that Arsenal need to shoot more, instead of trying to walk the ball into the net?

Well, we have that reputation, but Arsenal have actually taken more shots from outside the box than any other club in the Premiership this year, so I'm not sure it's quite accurate to say we only want to walk it into the net. But we do have this frustrating tendency to only want to score "pretty" goals. Nowhere is this more frustrating than on corner kicks and free kicks in the opposition half. For whatever reason we steadfastly refuse to just lump it into the box and then have guys rush into the box to see if we can cause some sort of goal-mouth scramble -- we always take corners short and then just start passing it around as per usual. And our full-backs hardly ever send crosses in, although we do this a little when Chamakh is playing because he's such a good header of the ball. I wish we'd try to score a few more "ugly" goals at times, but honestly, we are leading the Premiership in goals this season, it seems slightly petty and churlish to complain too much.

Prediction for the match?

I usually don't do predictions because I just have no idea what will happen. I think Leeds will give us a good match, but I'll be optimistic and predict Arsenal to come out just ahead. 2-1, Arsenal, going through to play Huddersfield.


Thanks to Martin for taking time to answer my questions, I did an interview with Martin and answered his questions which can be found at Arsenal Offside.

Hopefully Leeds can pull off another shock in the FA cup but being realistic Arsenal should have enough quality to see themselves into the next round. As the FA cup has shown so many times in the past, anything can happen and with a capacity crowd behind them Leeds have the ability and support to beat the North London club.

Marching On Together.

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