In terms of the great FA Cup surprises, it wouldn’t quite have been remembered alongside the likes of Hereford 2 -1 Newcastle or Sutton 2 – 1 Coventry, but had a spirited Leeds United side managed to hold on to the lead handed to them from the penalty spot when Denilson clumsily brought down Max Gradel shortly before the hour mark, they would certainly have raised a few eyebrows and prompted another round of debate over the lack of steel that continues to hinder Arsenal’s progress.
But it wasn’t to be. Confusion surrounded referee Phil Dowd’s decision to overturn a late penalty awarded when Theo Walcott was sent tumbling in the box. The referee seemed to point to the spot, before rescinding the penalty in favour of awarding a free kick to Leeds for the apparent presence of Nicklas Bendtner in an offside position. Whatever the case, it was an embarrassing moment for Dowd, who otherwise had an excellent game.
Arsenal had the penalty their fans desired just minutes later however, when Walcott was tugged back in the box by Ben Parker as he shaped to shoot. Second half substitute Cesc Fabregas dispatched the resulting spot kick with aplomb to set up a replay at Elland Road that manager Arsene Wenger had been keen to avoid prior to kick off.
However once the game was underway Wenger may have been quietly changing his mind as Leeds showed they were not intimidated by their illustrious opponents. Though Arsenal dominated possession for large spells of the game, there was a pluck about their opponents that implied they were not prepared to leave London in defeat. The visitors’ spirit was rewarded in the second half when Denilson tripped Gradel as the winger cut past the Arsenal midfielder in the box. Robert Snodgrass placed the resulting penalty underneath the diving Wojciech Szczesny, who got the tips of a glove to the ball but was unable to keep it out.
In the other goal Kasper Schmeichel had the kind of afternoon that inspires comparisons with his father. After keeping his cool to repel Andrei Arshavin when through on goal in the first half, Schmeichel then produced a world class save to tip away Denilson’s swerving late strike to preserve his sides place in the competition.
A lot has happened in the seven years since a Leeds side last shared a pitch with Arsenal in the FA Cup. On the last occasion in a third round tie back in 2004, Arsenal cruised to a resounding 4-1 victory over a Leeds team that were languishing in the relegation zone of the Premier League as they were forced to come to terms with the lavish management that had briefly seen them take to Europe’s greatest stage, but had also forced the club to the brink of collapse. Leeds now have their house in order, and are building towards a return to the top flight. Earning a Premier League scalp and a place in the fourth round would certainly help them on their way, and with their lively performance at the Emirates this afternoon they showed they are more than capable of doing so when the teams meet again in a couple of weeks time.
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