Arsenal 1-1 Leeds United
Cracking cup tie this. I couldn’t make the game yesterday so watched it on HyundaITV while following the mood on Twitter. There was a fair bit of chiding for various facets of Arsenal’s display but Leeds played very well indeed, let’s not forget. It’s the FA Cup – teams from lower leagues are always up for it and that’s what still makes it a great competition. Anyone can play anyone at any point, unlike the Champions League where Uefa do their very best to mollycoddle the big sides through to the knockout stages.
Distilled down, we had a lot of good chances that we didn’t take, gave away a silly penalty and lost all our momentum before bursting back to life right at the death.
Arshavin’s was the best, a one-on-one early in the game that he really should have scored. At the end of the game, Bendtner had several presentable chance that he skewed wide or high. I take no pleasure in seeing those two suffer for form as they did yesterday.
It’s not that they didn’t work hard enough. Arshavin got himself into plenty of decent positions but everything he did went wrong and you can see that his confidence is at rock bottom. The fact that he is now considered to be one of our ‘second XI’ pretty much says it all. He’s completely out of sorts; he knows it, the crowd knows it and it’s a real worry.
Bendtner too. In his case, it could be a combination of many things. He was playing on the wing for starters, hardly his ideal position. It was also only his sixth start of a very stop-start season, and that cannot help any player looking to build up some form and confidence. The catch 22 is that he needs the games, but how is he going to play ahead of Chamakh or van Persie? Funnily enough, yesterday’s draw will probably suit him; it means he will almost certainly start again at Leeds, and also in at least one of the games against Ipswich. He’s a man that needs to play and to win some doubters over.
It was Denilson who unwittingly brought the game to life in the second half with a ridiculously sloppy penalty giveaway. Cesc was surprisingly forthright when interviewed after the game and who can blame him? Denilson made amends of sorts by finding his shooting boots at the end as Arsenal scrabbled for the winner but these kinds of mistakes set his own cause back. Not good enough and Cesc knows it: “At this stage when you are a professional footballer you cannot risk these types of penalties. It’s so easy for them”, he said.
In the end, it was the introductions of Fabregas and Walcott that edged the momentum back in our favour, and the latter was involved in the two main talking points at the end. The first was a penalty shout that was given then not given, and which Walcott later admitted to having dived to try to win. The second, a legitimate and clear penalty despatched by Fabregas. Any defender idiotic enough to try to pull a striker back in the box, however subtly, can have no complaints.
As for the first one – it looked 50-50 but for Walcott to come out and apologise for trying to ‘win’ it is pretty extraordinary, especially as nobody was accusing him of doing that as far as I could see. The official site posted the full apology so it was clearly something Walcott felt very strongly about, and you know what, I rather admire him for it. It may mean he won’t get much sympathy from refs for a while but the fact we are surprised at a player’s jarring honesty says all you need to know about the modern game and its win-at-all-costs mentality. I found it pretty refreshing.
So overall, an thumping cup tie brought back from the dead by a team not playing at its best. Wenger might rue the replay but I don’t. I love the FA Cup. Can’t wait for it.