Arsenal v Leeds United: Whites fans have a ball

The red boarding around the second tier of the Emirates Stadium provides a chronological history of Arsenal's honours, beginning with their maiden FA Cup success in 1930 and ending with their last, some five-and-a-half years ago.

Arsene Wenger would like to see that timeline extended many times over, and no shortage of annoyance can be found in the fact that his squad have failed to do so since 2005.

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With two minutes of their tie against Leeds United to play, there was little prospect of Arsenal's publicity machine being asked to find space for an 11th FA Cup entry, in 2011 at least.

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A home draw in the third-round of this season's competition suited Wenger nicely, even if the opposition had worrying form at this stage of the tournament.

But the gloomy skyline which forced Arsenal to employ their floodlights as midday approached on Saturday was a metaphor for the storm that hovered on the horizon. Another awaits his players in West Yorkshire.

Wenger and Simon Grayson, Leeds United's manager, share common ground in as much as neither coach would name the FA Cup as the uppermost of his priorities, but recent history is an albatross for the Frenchman to carry.

It would suit him best to carry the Premier League title or the European Cup back to north London, but many years without a trophy have denied him the freedom to be picky. Grayson felt no such pressure.

There was doubt, nonetheless, about which of the clubs thrown together on Saturday wanted a place in the fourth round more. Grayson's line-up showed two changes to Wenger's nine.

A smattering of empty seats was apparent across three-quarters of the Emirates Stadium, yielding an attendance below 60,000. Not an inch could be found in the tiers given over to United's supporters: 8,500 of them, according to official estimates. The exchange of punches that broke out in one section of the home crowd suggested that many more had found a way into the ground.

Their mood before kick-off was almost expectant, a mass of twirling scarves and irrepressible energy. In commenting last week that "the bookmakers aren't wrong very often" – an appraisal of odds of 12-1 about an upset at the Emirates – Grayson did what he could to put the tie in context, but his realism barely filtered through. The reason was self-explanatory.

As he acknowledged himself, the away following in London was in no sense a part-time crowd. "They're hardcore fans," Grayson said, reminding the wider media that the same supporters were as likely to pay for tickets at Yeovil Town and Exeter City as they were to fork out for the padded seats of Arsenal.

More significantly, many of the faces present at the Emirates had been seen in one packed end of Old Trafford 12 months earlier, discovering that miracles do happen. United's support still sing about January 3, 2010, as well they might. Asking them to believe that Arsenal could be fallible was nothing short of preaching to the converted.

Even Cesc Fabregas' 90th-minute penalty failed ruin their day, and Kings Cross was awash with satisfied expressions as the wait for trains home to Yorkshire began.

For a club whose estrangement from venues like Arsenal has been long and bitter, worse things happen at sea. "If nothing else, it prolongs the fun," said one supporter.

And so it does.

In little more than seven days' time, Wenger will bring his squad to Leeds for a midweek replay, an additional fixture he would pay good money to be without. Elland Road will be cold, dark and fiercely partisan; Harry Redknapp can assure him of that. "We thought we were going to have a week off," said Fabregas.

"Now we have to play football in Leeds, and we like it."

You almost believed him.

NICE TO MEET YOU: Kalvin Phillips and Luke Ayling meet the Leeds fans on tour in Scwaz. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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