As I lay in bed last night with my knees burning from too many sliding tackles in my indoor football yesterday evening, I pondered on my father's opinions on the Arsenal victory over Leeds United in their FA Cup third round replay last night. It wasn't helped by the aching from within my knee joints, but if I was to stop playing now I don't know what else I could do to exercise, as football is just so enjoyable.
He agreed with me that the overall quality in the top teams in the Premier League is down this season, and Arsenal have a great chance of winning the title if they can maintain their current good run. I didn't offer my opinion on the Arsenal players on show until I had heard what he had to say. As I had played football I had missed the first 20 minutes of the game, and he told me Arsenal should have been at least four goals to the good at that stage. He was unimpressed with both Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, and at one stage he wondered if Denilson was actually on the pitch.
I did my best to defend all three of them, but it wasn't easy as his thoughts on them were similar to mine. He thought that Arshavin looked lazy, disinterested, and didn't do enough to help Kieran Gibbs when Leeds were attacking. It's hard to argue with those opinions, as they come from a fan of Blackpool who has played with and managed teams in the past, and really knows his stuff. Where Arsenal go next with Arshavin is a big question I think, because it looks to me like he isn't enjoying his football, and that's always a bad sign.
When it came to Bendtner he questioned his touch and decision making, and he couldn't believe that he was deployed in a wide right role. Again they are the questions that Arsenal fans ask about Bendtner, but to try to be fair to him, the wide right role does not suit him. At least he got back and helped Bakary Sagna more than Arshavin helped out Gibbs on the other side. Arsenal have a few players out on loan at other clubs that could have played in that role last night, and fitted in, with what was a strong team, a lot better than Bendtner did. I have always thought that some of the younger players need to get a run out as part of a strong Arsenal team to see how they would actually cope at the top level.
When it came to Denilson I thought he did alright last night, but my dad wanted to know exactly what he contributed to the team, and I found it hard to answer that. After his comments in the interview on Arseblog and Arsenal Brasil yesterday there was a lot of focus on him, but I thought he had a rather quiet game. What he said in that interview about the leadership on the pitch is nothing new though. Only last season Arsene Wenger said that Arsenal had plenty of leaders on the pitch, and it wasn't so important to have a single voice in that role. I suppose he sees it as a collective leadership, and whether you agree with it or not, it seems to be his way of doing things. Personally I would prefer an old fashioned centre half screaming at the players, and telling them what to do, while encouraging them as well.
In the game itself Arsenal turned up, and played as well as I had hoped they would play. I knew that an Arsenal team playing as well as that would be too much for Leeds, and so it proved. The boss selected the team that I expected him to select, and Samir Nasri again looked excellent in the role that Cesc Fabregas fills when he is playing. Nasri scored his 14th goal of the season, and put in yet another man of the match performance. I hope that Cesc doesn't go this summer, or ever if the truth were known, but if he does it is essential that Arsenal tie Nasri down to a long term contract as soon as possible. Those hideous people from Barcelona are bound to come sniffing around him too very soon.
Leeds tried to go at Arsenal from the start, but they paid the price after only five minutes, when Arshavin played the ball to Marouane Chamakh, and he stepped over it to leave Nasri with a run in on goal. He stepped past a couple of Leeds player, and placed the ball beyond the advancing Kasper Schmeichel to put Arsenal 1-0 up. After that it was all Arsenal, and Leeds really struggled to cope for the rest of the first half.
Chances came and went, and it seemed like just a matter of time before Arsenal increased their lead. The second goal came in the 34th minute when a Leeds clearance fell to Sagna just outside the box, and he brought it forward five yards, before striking it fiercely into the far corner. The keeper did manage to get a hand to it, but he couldn't cope with the power of the shot, and it went right into the top corner. It looked like Leeds were almost dead and buried at that stage, but only three minutes later they managed to grab a lifeline.
A free kick from Leeds was cleared to just outside the Arsenal box, and the ball was rolled to ex-Arsenal trainee Bradley Johnson 25 yards from goal. He struck the ball into the top corner on Wojciech Szczesny's left side, with as sweet a shot as he will ever hit in his life. There was absolutely nothing Szczesny could do about it, and as usual the opposition scored a great goal with their first attempt, after Arsenal had missed a lot of chances. Thankfully on this occasion, Arsenal had managed to score two of those chances first.
Half time arrived with Arsenal knocked off their stride just a little, but still holding a 2-1 lead. Leeds tried their best to put Arsenal under pressure in the second half, and they came close on a couple of occasions to getting the equaliser, but Arsenal came a lot closer to getting the third goal that would seal the victory. The boss brought Cesc and Robin Van Persie on for Arshavin and Chamakh after 71 minutes, and Arsenal took even more control of the game. The third goal came only five minutes later, when Cesc found Bendtner in acres of space on the right, with the Leeds full back gone missing. He crossed to the far post, and RVP was there to head the ball back across the keeper, and into the far corner.
It was game over at that stage, as the Leeds players looked drained from their exertions. Arsenal played out the final 15 minutes with relative ease, and the only problem was the two or three kicks that Cesc took, but he appeared to emerge unscathed. Next up in the FA Cup is a home game against Huddersfield Town on Sunday January 30th at noon, but before that Arsenal have to play Wigan Athletic on Sunday, and Ipswich Town on Tuesday. They're two games that are more than winnable, and two wins would leave Arsenal in a very strong position.
It would mean that Arsenal would have a Carling Cup final to contest at the end of February, as well as keeping the pressure up on "Manure" who get to play two league games this week. As I've stated before, I don't think "Manure" are all that good, and Arsenal just need to keep getting results to keep the pressure on them. After they play at home to Man City on February 12th they then have three away games in a row, and their away form has been poor so far. In the space of eight days they travel to Wigan, Chelsea and Liverpool, and Arsenal need to be prepared to take advantage of any slips in those games.
That's it for today, but I'll be back tomorrow with my usual Premier League predictions, and on Saturday morning with a preview of the Premier League game at home to Wigan.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.