First things first, I have to apologise for the extreme lateness of my match report, but events have again transpired against me. With two laptops and a PC in the house you would think that I would have permanent access to the internet, but alas it was not so today. My son's laptop charger died a few days ago, and the replacement is currently in transit, and then my laptop charger died this morning. My PC is currently being overused by my eldest son on his latest college project, so I have had to give him priority today, and I'm only getting to use it now. I'll do my best to try to get things back to normal as soon as possible.
On to the important matters and as expected Arsene Wenger made wholesale changes to the Arsenal team for the FA Cup third round game at home to Leeds United. The team was more or less as I had expected with the exception of Johan Djourou and Marouane Chamakh starting. I didn't think that Djourou would be up to playing for the third time in a week, but as he did I can only imagine that he has managed to fully recover from the injury that kept him out for all of last season. I thought that Chamakh might sit this game out on the bench, as I thought Carlos Vela playing on the left would give the team a little more balance.
It meant that Alex Song and Denilson played in midfield with Tomas Rosicky in front of them playing the creative role. I had a feeling that Cesc Fabregas would have filled that role, as I think his inclusion from the start would have ensured an Arsenal win. With Nicklas Bendtner asked to play in a wide right role the team looked a little unbalanced to me. I'm of the opinion that it's better to start a couple of the star performers, and take them off when the game has been secured rather than asking them to save the game late on.
From the start Arsenal were sloppy in possession, and I thought that Alex Song was the worst culprit of all. He looked like he was strolling through the game to me, and maybe he thought that he shouldn't be playing in what was basically a second string side. There were other players on the day who didn't perform too well, and as the game progressed the crowd's frustration with Andrey Arshavin grew louder and louder. I know Arshavin can be a frustrating player, but if the crowd get on his back any more than they are at the moment, I don't think that he will be at the club next season. Surely Arsenal are a better team with him in the squad than not in it.
During the course of the game he missed one very good chance in the first half when Rosicky played him in for a one on one with the keeper. He also had a very good snap shot well saved by Kasper Schmeichel, and he played Theo Walcott in for a one on one towards the end, but Walcott wasted it. I think the frustrations with him are partly because he has so much ability, but the application that is needed to go with that ability seems to be missing at times. If he could cut out the silly flicks that never seem to work I think the fans might be a little more forgiving. It is so annoying to see him needlessly waste possession, and then fall to the ground, as others chase back to try to regain it.
Getting back to the game it was always possible that Leeds would score a goal on one of their rare ventures forward, and the longer Arsenal went without scoring the more nervous the fans became. After their sloppy start Arsenal did manage to pick things up a little, and besides the great chance for Arshavin there were a few other chances in the first half, but they failed to take any of them. Half time arrived with the scoreboard still blank, and Arsenal needing to up the pace to make sure they didn't have to face a replay or even an exit. Despite the relatively poor display at that stage I still felt that the victory would come, as Leeds were having to work very hard to keep Arsenal out.
When the first goal came it was from a penalty after nine minutes of the second half, but it wasn't Arsenal who got it. Denilson was very sloppy when tackling a Leeds player who had been allowed into the Arsenal box in possession far too easily. The Leeds player quite rightly went down under the challenge, and Robert Snodgrass just about beat Wojciech Szczesny with his penalty.
Surely that was the catalyst that Arsenal needed to wake them from their slumber, but still the pressure was coming to nothing. Cesc was introduced after an hour for the ineffective Song, and then Theo Walcott came on for the equally ineffective Chamakh after 68 minutes. Arsenal upped the pace gradually, but as time ran out it looked like Arsene Wenger's proud record of never losing in the third round of the FA Cup was coming to an end. He had also never lost an FA Cup tie to lower league opposition, and that record was another one under severe threat.
With 79 minutes gone Carlos Vela came on for Tomas Rosicky who was on a yellow card, and was probably one more foul away from a second one. He may not have had too long to make an impression, but Vela didn't take his chance anyway, as I can't remember seeing him do anything of note in the 15 minutes he got. Others were trying harder though, and the other two substitutes were the most notable. Cesc did all he could to create chances for others, and Walcott was continually trying to get in behind the Leeds defence.
Things looked bleak as the game entered it's last minute of normal time, and when Arsenal rightfully had a penalty appeal turned down I thought that their last chance was gone. However, within a minute of that appeal Arsenal did earn themselves a penalty, and it was that man Walcott who was fouled. Bendtner played him in behind the Leeds full back, who pulled at his arm enough to put him off balance, but Walcott continued and got his shot in. When Schmeichel again saved the shot the referee blew for the penalty, and Cesc stepped up to try to earn Arsenal a replay. He waited for Schmeichel to dive, and then calmly stroked the ball down the middle and into the net.
Cesc did his best to get the ball back, and get the game going again, as Arsenal wanted another goal to save themselves from having to travel for the replay. In the four added minutes Arsenal could have had another three goals, but Bendtner and Walcott missed chances, and Schmeichel made a great save from a Denilson shot. To be fair to Leeds they deserved the draw after a very good display, and they will be no pushovers in that replay. When they were 1-0 up Szczesny made a great save from a Luciano Becchio penalty, and that probably kept Arsenal in the game. The final whistle came, and the Leeds players were delighted and a little disappointed too, as they had come so close to a great victory.
Arsenal had hoped to have a week off between their Premier League games against West Ham and Wigan, but instead they will have an FA Cup replay against Leeds. It's not the end of the world, but with the Carling Cup semi finals to come as well it all makes for a very busy schedule. If things continue as they are at the moment Arsenal are going to have a very busy schedule as the season draws to an end. I'm sure the boss would rate the FA Cup as a better trophy to win than the Carling Cup, but I'm also sure that he is not happy at adding another game to the ones Arsenal have to play. The reason for having a replay falls on his shoulders though, as the team he picked again was not up to the task required of them, which was also the case in the draw with Wigan last week.
After the game Walcott said that he had dived in the first penalty incident, and he apologised to the managers of both teams for that. He said he's not the sort of player to dive, as it's something he doesn't want to see in the game. He's received a fair deal of criticism for admitting to it, and also for diving. I hope it was a one off, and that we won't see it again, but it did seem to be a spur of the moment thing, and you never know what you might do in the spur of the moment. I do know that he won't find it quite so easy to get penalties in future after his admission. It's not as bad as a player winning a penalty by diving, and denying it afterwards, but it will only add to the cheating chants directed at Arsenal by opposing fans.
The draw was made for the fourth round of the FA Cup, and if Arsenal can overcome Leeds in the replay they will have a home tie against Huddersfield Town in three weeks time. The route to the last 16 of the FA Cup is there for all to see, and the boss has to consider that in his team selections. I think that he cannot make so many changes and expect the team to perform well. At least two or three of the best players will have to play to ensure that events don't go like they did yesterday, and we will if he decides that against Ipswich on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi final away from home.
Ipswich were thrashed 7-0 by Chelsea in the FA Cup today, and they sacked their manager last Friday. Arsenal need to make sure that they don't get the chance for a moral boosting victory on Wednesday night, by putting out a team that will beat them, and beat them in style. I'll preview that game on Wednesday morning, and between now and then I'll do my best to keep up to date with all that is happening in the world of Arsenal.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.
See You Tomorrow.