In December 2011 the FA Cup third round draw pitted Leeds United
against one of the game's major forces for the third year in a
row: 2010 saw them pull off a memorable
triumph over Manchester United at Old Trafford, a year later
they were paired with Arsenal at the Emirates.
In January 2012, the same opponents in the same stadium awaited
the Whites (or more accurately the Blacks and Luminous Yellows
based on the actual colours of the distinctive away strip worn
throughout this most disjointed and uneven of seasons).
"It's another great tie for us," said manager Simon Grayson.
"We've had some fantastic cup draws over the past few years and
this is another opportunity for us to come up against one of the
leading sides in the country.
"We beat Man United last year, we performed superbly against
Tottenham the same season, and last season we were within minutes
of winning at Arsenal. We took 9,000 fans with us last season
and I'm sure they will be looking forward to going back to the
Emirates once again.
"These are games you look forward to, but equally we have a lot
of important League games ahead of us before then and it's those
games that are our bread and butter. Everyone enjoyed the draw
being made, but our focus is on the Championship and the games
we have coming up. There's no question of anyone being distracted,
and when the time is right we will look forward to the Arsenal
game and think about it."
United chairman Ken Bates had some nice words to say about Arsenal
and their business model: "Where they are today is through good
business management, retained profits. They have a 60,000-capacity
stadium, which Lord Triesman gave as an example of bad business
finance. I wonder what the mortgage was on Lord Triesman's house.
"Let's face it, Arsenal have been a consistently successful club
and it has all been done on self-generated, reinvested profits,
not because of the manager but because of the intrinsic mindset
of the board. Managers come and go. The board appoint the manager.
The manager does a great job but the final financial decision
is with the board.
"If you ask me what I admire about Arsenal, it is that it is
a well-run club. If you look at Liverpool, apart from those
idiots Hicks and Gillett, again no-one put any money into Liverpool.
"The most fantastic of all is Manchester United. They haven't
put a penny into Manchester United. They have got the biggest
ground in the country, a consistent record of success and home
grown players. They have done it through first class management."
The Gunners were set to lose Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh to
the African Cup of Nations, and Arsene Wenger's solution was to
bring in former favourite Thierry Henry on a two-month loan deal
from New York Red Bulls.
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Henry: "I hope people are not going to compare what I did here
before. I'm going to be here most of the time on the bench, we
all know it and I'm not stupid to think I'm going to start - we
all know that Robin van Persie is the main guy up front.
"I am not 25 any more. I am not going to take the ball from the
middle of the park and dribble past five or six players. Don't
expect that. (But) if you have the awareness to see things before
players, you can get away with not having your legs. Look at Ryan
Giggs, it's not the same Ryan Giggs who used to take the ball
from the wing or from Denis Irwin and dribble past everyone and
deliver a great cross. But what Ryan Giggs has is he can see the
game, he is always available, he puts himself in a position where
he can receive the ball alone and then you will never lose your
touch. That's what I am going to try to bring to this team if
I have to play.
"I can definitely have some input out there, to talk to the guys
and let them know what it means to win. I am a competitor and
that will never leave my body."
Henry won multiple honours with Arsenal, including two domestic
titles, before joining Barcelona in a £16m deal in 2007.
His transfer was pushed through shortly before noon the Friday
before the game and Simon Grayson paid tribute to a forward whose
eight-year reign at Arsenal established him as an international
Grayson, who was a Blackburn Rovers defender when Henry joined
Arsenal from Juventus in 1999, said: "It would be nice if Henry
could play. He was fantastic for the Premier League. With the
pace and the opportunities he used to take, he must be one of
the best players the Premier League has ever seen. It's probably
fitting for him to come back and have a couple of months with
Arsenal. He could make anything happen - run the full length of
the pitch, nutmeg three people and stick the ball in the back
of the net. At 34 he'll be a different player and we're not expecting
him to be the player of before but he'll be a major threat if
he plays. The experience he brings to Arsenal's dressing room
will be second to none."
Understandably, all the pre-match discussions were about a player
who had scored eleven times in as many games against Leeds. There
was, though, the constant, nagging memory that United had pulled
off a shock at the same stadium a year earlier.
The United manager admitted uncertainty about the shape of Arsenal's
selection, saying: "I don't know what team they'll pick but I'm
sure they'll want to win. They'll want to progress and get some
"The biggest threat to us is probably ourselves. At times we
can produce performances but then cause ourselves problems. But
we feel comfortable stepping into an arena like the Emirates.
The players aren't nervous in these games because
they're comfortable with the atmosphere. It's what they're involved
with over the course of each season, just by being Leeds United
players. It's a privilege to play for Leeds and you have to cope
"Sometimes cup-ties sit nicely with the club. We can handle the
big arenas. Our supporters go to other grounds and people recognise
how many we take. I took my son to Manchester City versus Liverpool
the other day and he asked me 'Will they make as much noise as
the Leeds fans?' I said no and they didn't. That's why we're comfortable
on the big stage."
Leeds had taken 9,000 supporters to the previous year's third
round tie but 4,000 fewer would attend this time with the fixture
moved from the weekend to Monday evening as the game chosen for
television coverage by ESPN.
Grayson said: "It's disappointing that we can't take as many
fans. If it had been on a Saturday or a Sunday then we would have
done. They were fantastic last season and I'm sure the 5,000 we
take will be too. I'd have preferred a Saturday game and ideally
it would have been on a weekend but you're at the mercy of TV
channels these days."
Arsenal confirmed that 21-goal forward Robin van Persie would
sit out the match, but Grayson was beset by selection problems,
with Jonny Howson (knee injury), Robert Snodgrass (recovering
from emergency appendix surgery) and a host of defenders unavailable.
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The only United player who had featured against Arsenal in 2011
was Luciano Becchio. 19-year-old Zac Thompson was named at right-back
in a young rearguard that also included Tom Lees and Aidy White;
Mika Vayrynen was recalled to the heart of the midfield, loan
man Andros Townsend was patrolling the left wing with Ramon Nunez
on the other flank.
There was an amusing incident during the pre-match warm up. As
is their wont, ESPN had presenter Rebecca Lowe asking Robbie Savage
and Martin Keown their opinions at the side of the pitch just
yards from the United fans. Michael Brown took it upon himself
to use the trio for target practice. It was described as a 'stray
ball' in most of the reports, but it was undoubtedly intentional
when Brown succeeded, banging Keown on the side of the head to
raucous cheers from United supporters.
Keown dealt admirably with the incident, brushing it off with
a thumbs up sign towards the Leeds team and
quipped that "You're supposed to tell me they're coming". Through
gritted teeth, Keown joked that Brown couldn't have been aiming
for him as "he would have missed if he'd tried" and later told
the Daily Mail, "Alex Bruce tipped me off that his Leeds team
mate Michael Brown - the ex-Tottenham midfielder - was the culprit.
At least he was apparently trying to aim at Robbie Savage, not
In a separate incident, Savage was left fuming when Leeds fans
pelted him and Lowe with hot dogs, coins and verbal abuse. He
tweeted: "Majority of Leeds fans were a disgrace throwing coins
and hot dogs, shouting obscenities to a lady presenter! Disgrace!"
United entered the Cup on the back of a dramatic win the previous
weekend against Burnley, secured with a Ross McCormack winner
in the seventh minute of injury time. The result ended a run of
four League games without a win and eased mounting pressure on
When the action finally commenced, Arsenal looked determined
not to allow United to repeat their unexpected success of 2011,
and were quickly into their smooth passing game. They enjoyed
the lion's share of the early possession, with United content
to drop back and let them have the ball, set up by Grayson for
a long evening of disciplined defence.
Andrey Arshavin wasted two openings in the first sixty seconds
when he had the ball in the left channel. The Russian, struggling
with a lack of confidence, failed to bother Andy Lonergan on either
The action was almost exclusively in the United half, though
Andros Townsend did set off on a promising run down the left after
three minutes, before he was sent crashing to the turf. From the
free kick, United surrendered possession when Darren O'Dea's poorly
directed pass fell to Aaron Ramsey. Chamakh played Arshavin clear
on the edge of the area but his effort was spectacularly wayward.
Townsend, on loan from Tottenham, was determined to show what
he could do against his parent club's North London rivals after
making a good start to his spell with Leeds. His pace down the
flanks marked him out as a major threat and in the tenth minute
he was taken down again by Coquelin as he looked to break away.
Arsenal took control of the game with some incisive pass and
move football; all United could offer was determination, disciplined
football and an eye for a quick break when the opportunity presented
itself, with Becchio left to plough a lone furrow up front. Townsend
promised to contribute much, but Nunez on the other flank was
In the fifteenth minute, Arsenal centre-back Sebastien Squillaci
threatened when he rose to meet a curling free kick from Mikael
Arteta, but his header drifted wide of both Lonergan's diving
reach and the far
Townsend fashioned the first threat for the visitors after sixteen
minutes. He exhibited some smart footwork on the left to buy himself
the time and space to float the ball in towards the front post,
but Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny sank confidently to gather
A minute later, a long ball from Song into the United box appeared
to cause uncertainty, but Lonergan managed to adjust his feet
and caught Lees' cool chest back with Arshavin lurking in wait.
When Aaron Ramsey surged through shortly afterwards, he fired
inches wide with Lonergan diving anxiously.
United finally managed to get some combination work going and
promised to build some momentum of their own, though there was
precious little end product, and most of their possession was
quickly snuffed out by Arsenal.
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In the twentieth minute, Arshavin showed he had not lost all
of his confidence when he played Ramsey into a dangerous position
but Lonergan shepherded the midfielder to the byline and the referee
decided the ball had gone out for a goal kick before Ramsey manufactured
a flicked cross.
The Welshman had another effort after referee Mark Clattenburg
waved play on when Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled, but a defender
deflected the shot over the bar.
It was all Arsenal and in the 23rd minute Mikael Arteta saw his
shot skim the foot of a diving Lonergan's left hand post.
United did manage to create their first chance a minute later.
Townsend won a free kick when he wandered across to the right
wing and when Arsenal failed to clear the cross, Vayrynen worked
admirably to get in a drilled centre. It fell to create a sharp
opening for Becchio, but the striker's shot was rushed and high
into the crowd.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was pulled up for a dubious foul on Aidy White
as he went for a through ball on the right but Chamakh clipped
the wide man's cross over the top of the net anyway.
After 29 minutes, Arsenal full-back Coquelin was withdrawn, crippled
by a pulled hamstring, and Nico
Yennaris came on to replace him three minutes later when there
was finally a break in play.
The switch came just as United were starting to settle. They
had hitherto relied far too heavily on hopeful long balls out
of defence which Arsenal had been more than capable of picking
off; as Leeds slowed their game down, they looked a far more effective
team and Vayrynen was having his best game in a United shirt.
Townsend continued to show promise, but the referee felt he was
going down too easily under challenges and had a quiet word in
O'Dea was fortunate not to have his name taken for a dive in
on Oxlade-Chamberlain in the closing stages of the half. The game
was degenerating into a dull and colourless contest as it wound
down towards the interval. Swamping midfield had given United
a foothold, and Arsenal found their defensive barrier difficult
to pierce. Arsene Wenger shook his head in frustration as the
whistle went for the break.
Arsenal came out intent on changing the pace of the game and
there was loud applause from the crowd as Thierry Henry began
warming up on the sidelines. At the same time, the promising Oxlade-Chamberlain
shot narrowly wide after racing through on the right.
Arshavin wasted another opportunity and then Adam Clayton worked
his way out of defence with some neat control to send Nunez away
on the right. Arsenal were forced to concede a corner from his
cross. But when O'Dea misdirected a pass, Arsenal fed Arshavin
in yards of space down the right. Once again the finish was wayward.
Chamakh was denied at the expense of a corner, from which Miquel's
header was blocked away for another flag kick which a stretching
Lonergan clawed away.
In the 54th minute, Lonergan showed sharp reflexes, diving low
to his left, to stop an Arteta effort after Oxlade-Chamberlain
beat the United defence on the left byline to create the opportunity.
Within a minute, the home side threatened again when Vayrynen's
back pass allowed Arshavin an opportunity, but the Russian scooped
it harmlessly across the face of goal as Lonergan came out to
The Gunners were on top and Oxlade-Chamberlain's shot from six
yards was blocked by Aidy White before Tom Lees headed a cross
from the winger over his own bar after Ramsey had shown neat footwork
to set him up.
As the game reached the hour mark, Simon Grayson sought to freshen
up a midfield that was increasingly stretched, sending on Michael
Brown for the tiring Vayrynen.
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The change made little difference and Lonergan saved well to
deny Oxlade-Chamberlain after a nice one-two with Ramsey around
the edge of the area. Arsenal were moving up a gear, with Ramsey
and Arteta pulling the creative strings.
When United did spring forward, Townsend was booked for dissent
after protesting too vigorously and kicking the ball into the
crowd when he was incorrectly denied a corner decision following
a good run down the right flank.
The game was drifting, but in the 68th minute Arsene Wenger brought
on Thierry Henry and Theo Walcott for Chamakh and Oxlade-Chamberlain,
drawing the loudest cheers of the evening from the home supporters.
There was no immediate improvement and after 75 minutes United
were still very much in the contest at 0-0. When Szczesny came
out wide to prevent a corner, the ball fell to Nunez 30 yards
out on the left. The Arsenal keeper recovered his position to
gather Nunez's long range effort. Moments earlier Ross McCormack
had replaced Becchio.
The inevitable breakthrough came after 78 minutes. Zac Thompson
had done well at right-back, but he had a lapse of concentration
when Henry was played in behind the Leeds defence by Alex Song.
The French legend coolly took the ball and stroked it tantalisingly
past Lonergan. He raced off to milk the inevitable outpouring
of delirious appreciation from the Emirates crowd. It was the
touch of class that Arsenal had missed, and with which United
simply could not compete.
With United forced out of their shell, Brown fired in from range
but right into Szczesny's midriff and then McCormack could only
direct his 10-yard header straight at the keeper when Clayton
fired in a cross.
Simon Grayson brought Mikael Forssell on after 81 minutes for
the anonymous Nunez.
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Arshavin lashed another opportunity into the side netting as
he sought to settle the match with seven minutes remaining
and then defender Miquel wanted too much time when he had a chance
and United were able to bring the ball out of defence.
Henry saw his whiter than white image tarnished a little near
the end. He took the ball to the corner flag in an attempt to
run down the clock. But as he sought to milk more adulation from
his fans, Aidy White nipped in to smartly dispossess the Frenchman.
As he was coming away, Henry flicked out petulantly, disgruntled
at being made to look foolish. White stumbled but recovered and
sped up the flank. Arshavin did receive a yellow card when he
upended White to end the move, but Henry should have been the
In the final minute, United could have snatched an undeserved
equaliser but Szczesny showed his reflexes to deny Forssell when
he turned in the box. Danny Pugh saw a long range effort come
to nothing and the whistle went shortly afterwards, confirming
Arsenal's passage into the fourth round.
United had not been humiliated, but they had certainly been second
best, though a conservative approach had contained much of the
Arsenal threat. It was a mystery that they weren't able to show
the same defensive fortitude in Championship fixtures, where they
had one of the poorer goals against records.
Simon Grayson said he was "very proud of the players. We worked
extremely hard, kept our shape, the organisation was good. We
had a few opportunities, but it was all set up, wasn't it? He
does always score. He scores against many other teams as well
and it was a typical Thierry Henry goal. He's done that to many
teams over the years.
"Some of the young kids come out with a lot of praise tonight.
It shows the players can handle the big stage and the big games.
We've showed we've got a good temperament and hopefully it will
stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.
"We were disappointed with the result, but the performance was
good. We knew we would have to weather a storm and they would
have possession, and we had to keep our shape and discipline.
We gave the ball away a little too cheaply in the first half,
but that's understandable a little bit, maybe with a few nerves
from the younger players, but we grew in stature, created a few
chances and were undone by an absolute legend.
"We knew we would have to flood the midfield because they try
and pass through and Danny Pugh sat in front of the back four
to try and protect things a little bit, and try and make sure
we weren't too
"If you go chasing the game and leave yourselves too open there
will only be one winner. Arsenal can beat many top teams like
that so it's no disrespect to us. We worked extremely hard but
as the game went on we still had some opportunities. We were always
going to have opportunities and they didn't have too many in terms
of Lonners having to make any saves. We were disciplined in what
we did and on another night we could have maybe nicked it.
"Maybe we were ball watching a little bit, but we had some fantastic
young lads in there who did really, really well and they will
have learnt from the experience of playing against the likes of
Henry and the big hitters.
"When you look at what Arsenal had on the bench, it's a credit
to us that they had to bring a couple of those big hitters off
the bench to win the game. In the end, I was proud of the players,
the supporters showed how fantastic they were, and the football
club came out with a lot of credit."
Leaving the final word to Henry: "It's kind of weird, I came
back from holiday 15 days ago. I never thought I was going to
play for Arsenal again or score a winner. I don't know what to
say. I love the club and I hope I can do more. I hope it won't
be the last one. The feeling I had when I scored was amazing.
"I rejoined the club as a fan; before I wasn't. Scoring a goal
when you support the team, now I know how some of the guys who
played for Liverpool or Man United or Chelsea felt when they scored
a goal for the club they support.
"With one opportunity, it's very important, you don't know if
you'll have a second. You have to make sure you take it. I took
On being named man of the match, he added: "I think it's a joke,
but I'll take it."
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