Arsenal (0) 1 Leeds United (0) 0
FA Cup Third Round
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Monday, 6th January 2020. Kick-off time: 7.56pm
(3-4-1-2) Emiliano Martínez; Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, David Luiz; Reiss Nelson, Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolašinac; Mesut Özil; Nicolas Pépé, Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Dani Ceballos, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, Tyreece John-Jules, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Reiss Nelson (54 mins)
Yellow Cards: Sead Kolašinac
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 42%
Referee: Anthony Taylor
As we have just discovered, the winners of tonight’s tie meet AFC Bournemouth at The Vitality Stadium in the fourth round; certainly a prospect of another mouth-watering tie in the offing no doubt. However, first things first. It was a very competitive start to the match tonight, with the visitors having the best of the early exchanges, and to be fair, they were very unlucky not to score when a Jack Harrison shot was saved well by Emiliano Martínez. We looked a little all at sea when Patrick Bamford hit the crossbar a few minutes later, and if it was not for the superb performance of our goalkeeper, we could have been in deep trouble. Indeed, as the first half wore on, our play looked extremely sloppy with Leeds United taking full advantage of our tardiness in all areas of the pitch. On the half hour, we came close to scoring when David Luiz’s header narrowly went the wrong side of the post from a Mesut Özil corner, our first one of the match, unbelievably. Soon afterwards, young Mattéo Guendouzi showed intelligent play in clearing the ball out of the penalty area after yet another dangerous Leeds United attack in which we were fortunate not to concede a goal, and as the minutes wore on towards the break, it was Leeds United who looked the most likely team to score; with their youthful exuberance and desire on the night, they opened up the Arsenal defence time and time again with the ease of an electric can opener on a helpless tin of peas. Indeed, it was almost some kind of miracle that we went into half-time not being in deficit, as the visitors were by far and away the better side in the first period of the match.
The second half certainly started better for us, when Reiss Nelson was unlucky not to score after advancing thirty or so yards into the Leeds penalty area before being dispossessed by opposing defenders at the last minute. A superb free-kick from the right foot of Alexandre Lacazette skimmed the top of the Leeds crossbar, and a minute or three later we were unfortunate not to score when both Alexandre Lacazette and Mattéo Guendouzi came close to scoring. However, nine minutes after the restart, Reiss Nelson bundled the ball into the net (after some exemplary work by Nicolas Pépé out on the wing) via the leg of defender Kalvin Phillips, to open the scoring. Arsenal were now in the ascendancy, with purpose, verve and vigour; now it seemed to be our turn to control the match. A call by Alexandre Lacazette for a penalty was denied, and Arsenal changed shape again when Reiss Nelson was substituted for Gabriel Martinelli after the sixty-fifth minute. Sead Kolašinac picked up our only booking of the evening when he committed a foul on Helder Costa; the subsequent free-kick sailed over the Arsenal bar, courtesy of Barry Douglas. Deft and clever footwork from Gabriel Martinelli led to a good block from Ben White, just minutes before Joe Willock replaced a seemingly fatigued Mesut Özil after seventy-six minutes. With four minutes remaining, Sead Kolašinac was the subject of a VAR enquiry due to an altercation; thankfully, there was nothing to write home about and the game carried on in its own momentum. Bukayo Saka replaced Nicolas Pépé in the first minute of injury time, but by then the match was winding down to its conclusion, and ultimately it was Arsenal that progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
A classic tale of two halves; thankfully Arsenal woke up at half-time to finish victorious, but to be fair, the first half performance told another story. We were most fortunate not to be at least three down by half time, but by sheer fortune (and an exemplary performance by Emiliano Martínez) we held out. Granit Xhaka was lucky to escape a booking (at least), and most of our players looked completely out of their depth against a vivacious Leeds United side. However, the second half told a different tale, as the pep talk handed out to them by Mikel Arteta in the dressing room meant that they played with purpose and vision. Arsenal’s substitutes reinvigorated the side, changed their shape and ultimately we were able to end the match as winners. But it was a close run thing. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, 11th January at 12.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.