Leeds' FA cup fairytale came to an end last night at the hands of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, but the Whites can hold their heads up high. Although many wished and prayed that Leeds could cause another upset, those with any common sense would have expected Arsenal to breeze past us at a canter. Arsenal are a quality side with international superstars at their disposal, but at a packed Elland Road many believed Leeds could beat the Gunners, myself included.
Since our Champions League days there has been few bumper attendances for Leeds to boast about, the East Stand upper tier is rarely of use. For now the upper tier is used for special occasions but I am hopeful and certain that it will not be long before we will see the stadium filled to capacity week in week out.
The atmosphere prior to kick-off was electric, the crowd were in full voice and there was a buzz around Elland Road. I took up my usual seat in the Kop ready and waiting for what was about to unfold. Leeds were forced to make changes from the side that played Scunthorpe on Saturday, Billy Paynter replaced Becchio who was struggling with a back strain and Ben Parker replaced George McCartney who was unavailable for the cup tie due his loan move from Sunderland. Although it was a slight worry Becchio was unavailable I thought that Paynter could take his chance with both hands and show the fans what he is all about.
Arsenal also made changes themselves, Sagna, Djourou and Nasri were all brought in, in hope that they would give Arsenal that cutting edge.
For Leeds to stand a chance in this match, they needed to defend well and when given the chance, punish Arsenal just like they had done at the Emirates in the first leg. Arsenal had to be more clinical in front of goal and more importantly start well which is pretty much exactly what they did. Leeds started the game well but poor defending and fluent passing allowed Arsenal to take the lead through Samir Nasri after 5 minutes. The goal was a kick in United's teeth and stunned the 38,000 crowd but Arsenal's brilliance was just too much for the Whites defence. It was at that point that I feared that this game may just may get out of hand and resemble a cricket scoreline.
The breakthrough lifted Arsenal and they could have made it 2-0 shortly after. Nasri's free-kick was met by Chamakh, who's header was destined for the back of the net, but for the ever present Kasper Schmeichel who produced a Gordon Bank's like save which even his dad would have been proud of.
As the Leeds team settled and began to find their feet in the game, the crowd started to come alive. The good old famous chant 'Waccoe - We are the champions, champions of Europe' rang around the ground as well as the typical waving of flags and scarf's. Next on the play list at Elland Road was a new track especially for Theo Walcott, who was due some abuse due to his diving antics the week before. Any Arsenal player that went down a little bit theatrically was greeted with "Are you Walcott in disguise".
Just as Leeds looked like they were slowly coming back into the tie, Arsenal struck again. Andy O'Brien's clearance fell to Bakary Sagna and the right-back smashed his shot past the helpless Schmeichel. It seemed that Leeds were dead and buried and it would take something special to reignite the cup tie. However Leeds showed some fighting spirit, chasing every ball Max Gradel and Jonny Howson were not going to lose without a fight. Local lad Howson's efforts were rewarded in spectacular fashion when that little moment of magic was produced by Howson's centre midfield counter-part Bradley Johnson. Howson laid the ball off to Johnson and he hit a thunderbolt straight into the top right hand corner past Szczesny. Quite simply no keeper in the world would have saved it and the game was well and truly back on.
At half-time Leeds still had a chance and why not? Arsenal dominated the first-half they were given far too much time and space and yet the game was still poised at 2-1.
In the second-half Leeds also had their fair share of chances. Billy Paynter was unable to get on the end of a cross, which given more game time this season, I am sure the outcome may have been different. Davide Somma was brought on to replace the former Swindon man and could have made it 2-2. Paul Connolly did well to fire a ball to the near post, Somma was unfortunate to be stood a little too close to the right-back and the ball hit him and went high into the Kop.
In order to see the game out, Arsenal were required to bring on two of their "Big-guns". Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie were brought on to replace Chamakh and the very poor Arshavin. The introduction of Fabregas was greeted by the Leeds fans with a chorus of "Who needs Cesc Fabregas, we've got Rob Snodgrass" which amused many of those sitting beside me in the Kop.
It didn't take Van Persie long to make his mark on the match, Bendtner's long searching ball was met by the Dutchman and he made it 3-1 with a towering header over Kasper Schmeichel.
Leeds were beaten by the better team on the night, but they can be immensely proud of their efforts. Millions around the world watched Arsenal dump Leeds out of the FA cup, but to Leeds the scoreline wasn't the be all and end all. The money Leeds will have received for both ties will help the club both on and off the pitch. Last night was just a taster for the Leeds players, of what is to come for them should, they win promotion from the Championship this season. The attention can now turn to the league, with Portsmouth up next for Simon Grayson's men, anything more than a point for Leeds will be a good result as Fratton Park can be a difficult venue for any travelling team.
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My player ratings:
Schmeichel: 8- Schmeichel was vocal and commanding like he has been all season for Leeds. Although he was forced to pick the ball out from his net on 3 occasions when he was needed he was there. Save of the season so far was from Chamakh in the first-half.
Connolly: 6- Didn't do anything special but was solid throughout, he was unable to link up with Snodgrass due to Arsenal marking Snodders out of the game.
Bruce: 6- Was solid in the tackle and good in the air, wasn't really at fault for the goals. Improving each and every game.
O'Brien: 6- Sad to see him going off with an injury at the end, didn't look too good for the former Bolton man. Was calm on the ball and showed some of his experience at times. Partnership with Bruce looks strong.
Parker: 5- Still lacking match fitness and sharpness, looked a little slow again but did a job. Hopefully can gain his match fitness during training while working under McCartney.
Snodgrass:6- The scot was marked out of the game by the Arsenal defence and struggled to make an impact. He did show his class at times with his mazy runs and played a big part in the goal.
Howson: 7- The local lad tried his heart out all game and was unlucky at times on the ball. Has been in fantastic form all this season and hope it continues.
Johnson: 7- Scored a wonder goal that he won't be forgetting any time soon. Showed his strength in the air but was sometimes wasteful on the ball like he has been all season.
Gradel: 8- My man of the match, was a danger to the Arsenal defence at all times and troubled them with his pace. As ever he was here there and everywhere.
Watt: 5- Struggled to get going all game, still young and still learning at this level. Showed some signs of his quality which was on show against Scunthorpe.
Paynter: 5- Lack of match fitness let Billy down but he has ability in the air and held the ball up well.