Arsenal faced Leeds United last night at home in the third round of the FA Cup, with a home tie against Aston Villa awaiting the winners in the next round. Arsenal couldn't have asked for a much better draw than a home game against a team from a lower league, and they were clear favourites to progress. The teams met at the same stage in this competition last season, and Arsenal needed a replay to dispatch Leeds on that occasion.
The biggest worry on the night for Arsenal was that a combination of injuries, suspension, and international duties had left 10 of their first team squad unavailable. The biggest problems were in defence with not a recognised full-back in sight for Arsene Wenger. Leeds had a few players of their own missing though, and Arsenal played a team which was more than capable of getting the job done.
Those injuries for Arsenal meant that Ignasi Miquel played at right-back, and Francis Coquelin played on the left. Unfortunately for Coquelin the full-back curse struck yet again, and he went off with what looked like a hamstring injury after 30 minutes. That meant Nico Yennaris got a chance to stake a place in the team for the last hour.
Wenger played the strongest possible midfield available to him, and Marouane Chamakh played at centre-forward after he delayed his trip to the African Cup of Nations. He was flanked by Andrey Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as Arsenal went in search of the goals to win the tie. The really big team news for the night was of course the inclusion of the returning Thierry Henry as a substitute for Arsenal.
Henry has returned to the club he loves for the next six weeks to try to do whatever he can to help them. He may not have the pace he had when he left Arsenal almost five years ago, but he still has a lot to offer the team in my opinion. Besides his obvious talent I am sure he can also pass on some of his expertise to players like Chamberlain and Theo Walcott.
With Chamakh leading the line Arsenal rested Robin van Persie, and the player took a chance to have a break in Dubai. Arsenal have been called a one-man team at times this season, as the goals of RVP have inspired the majority of their victories. Chamakh had a chance to show that he can play a part, or failing that there was always Henry on the bench.
Arsenal had the best of the early proceedings, but despite their best attempts they failed to take any of their chances. The best of those chances seemed to fall to Arshavin, but he certainly hadn't got his shooting boots on. He did work very hard for the entire game though, and if he continues to work that hard the fans will have no problem with him.
The pace dropped as the first half progressed, and the game became a bit of a stalemate. Leeds had set their stall out to defend, and Arsenal were having trouble breaking them down. It was 0-0 at half-time and neither team had actually managed a shot on target in that first half. Try as he might Chamakh looked to have all the confidence of a player who knows his days at Arsenal are numbered.
Arsenal started brightly in the second half, but still the goals would not come for them. At least they were making the Leeds keeper work harder this time, as they managed to get a few good efforts on target. The crowd were growing a little restless though, as they knew the introduction of Henry could not be far away.
At the mid-point in the second half Arsenal introduced Henry and Walcott for Chamakh and Chamberlain, and the reception for the Frenchman was magnificent. I have to Admit that it brought a tear to my eye to see him running out in his beloved red and white again. The stage was set for him to steal all the headlines, and all he needed was one chance to do so.
Only 10 minutes after coming on Henry managed to lose his marker in the penalty area, and latch on to an excellent pass from Alex Song. He was through on the left hand side of the goal with only the keeper to beat, and it's the position from where he scored so many goals for Arsenal in the past. He looked up and calmly stroked the ball into the far corner, as if he had never left the club.
Henry celebrated with the fans, the manager, and the other Arsenal players too. Afterwards he said that it was his "first goal as an Arsenal fan", and hopefully it won't be his last one over the next few weeks.
Leeds came into the game a little more after that and they had a couple of decent half chances, but Arsenal emerged victorious. The script could not have been written any better for Arsenal fans, as their returning hero scored the goal to see them through. He will play a bigger part in the weeks to come I am sure, but last night was all about his glorious return.
There were plenty of problems there for all to see in the Arsenal performance, but I'll deal with them on another day. The man of the match award went to Henry which was a little unfair to Aaron Ramsey who had a fine game in my opinion.
The team needs some new blood to boost it, and hopefully Henry won't be the only player to arrive during the current transfer window. Some of Arsenal's injured players will be returning over the next few weeks, and hopefully their returns will be a boost to the team too.
Last night was all about Thierry Henry, and after his goal I'm sure the sale on number 12 shirts will be boosted greatly. It's the number he wanted when he first arrived at the club, and it's his for the next six weeks now. Hopefully during those six weeks he can relive a few more of his former glories, and help Arsenal towards some glory this season too.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
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