Leeds United v Arsenal: Pride in FA Cup defeat as Whites bow out

The odds told Leeds United that their involvement in this season's FA Cup would end in the third round.

Their history of replays against Arsenal indicated that it would end last night.

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The tradition of a fine club guaranteed that they would go down swinging, whenever the moment came.

The margins between the Premier League and the Championship were shown in a harsh light at Elland Road, a gulf that passion alone is rarely able to bridge.

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But disparity in talent has never equated to a difference of will and Arsenal found Leeds at their most belligerent in Yorkshire, if some way short of their Sunday best.

United were a beaten team from the fifth minute onwards, and arguments with the final scoreline were few at the end of a raucous third-round replay which went with form in a way that the clubs' first engagement at the Emirates Stadium had not.

Leeds' manager, Simon Grayson, was questioned many times about whether United's chance of a grand upset had slipped away with Cesc Fabregas' 90th-minute penalty in London, and a defeat at Elland Road last night bore that assumption out. Arsenal are not often humiliated, and rarely by the same team twice.

Samir Nasri scored with his first chance in front of the Kop, and Grayson could ask no more from then on than a willingness to fight in a manner that did justice to a crowd of over 38,000.

That requirement went without saying, and his players did not miss their calling.

Bacary Sagna caused further deflation by scoring again before half-time but Bradley Johnson's picturebook goal brought immediate respite and Arsene Wenger knew what was coming.

Having suffered for the best part of two hours on his own touchline at the Emirates on January 8, he was made to squirm again last night in the inhospitable atmosphere of a rough and ready arena.

Not until Robin van Persie's header with 14 minutes remaining was he able to feel confident of belated progression to the fourth round and a tie with Huddersfield Town, a fixture that Leeds will scarcely rue the passing of.

Grayson might feel that his players have had their fun in the FA Cup and are ready now for a solitary focus. Saturday's visit to Portsmouth is part of a more serious project.

Arsenal were less than enamoured by the prospect of an unscheduled appearance in Leeds, Wenger's second-worst nightmare when the draw for the third round was made.

His players preceded their arrival at Elland Road with some good, old-fashioned in-fighting, resolved by modern means.

Denilson was quoted in print yesterday morning as making the remarkable claim that his captain, Cesc Fabregas, was "not a leader", a comment Fabregas excused as a "misunderstanding" on Twitter. It did not paint the picture of a harmonious camp.

Wenger involved both players regardless, Denilson in his starting line-up and Fabregas on a heavily-armed bench. The Spaniard sat shoulder-to-shoulder with van Persie, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, a gang of four reserved for the sort of crisis witnessed by Arsenal at the

Emirates Stadium 11 days earlier. It did not materialise.

Grayson sought to cause greater discomfort last night but he was hampered by the loss of Luciano Becchio to a back injury. The close proximity of Saturday's fixture at Portsmouth prevented a gamble on Becchio's fitness, and Billy Paynter assumed the Argentine's regular post as a lone forward.

Grayson asked for and expected a capacity crowd to greet Arsenal with their traditional clamour, and he was not let down by the thousands who filled the ground to its last seat for the first time this season. They did not need the provocation provided by Max Gradel's shot after 34 seconds or Paynter's sliding tackle on Denilson inside the centre circle.

Their faith was tested, however, by Arsenal's first attack in the fifth minute. It was all the time Wenger's players needed to carve out the goal which eluded them for almost the entire game at the Emirates 11 days earlier.

Robert Snodgrass sold the ball cheaply inside his own half and Marouane Chamakh played Samir Nasri between Andy O'Brien and Alex Bruce with a clever dummy. Nasri's class told in his poise and the casual flick which rolled to the right of Kasper Schmeichel.

The effect of his finish was predictable and immediate, both in subduing the atmosphere and inviting Arsenal to play as they can, and Schmeichel was forced to rely on every ounce of his agility to repel with one hand a header from Chamakh at the end of Nasri's free-kick.

Wenger's decision to add Nasri to the line-up used by him against Leeds in London was already threatening to prove decisive; Elland Road later applauded the midfielder from the pitch.

The pace of Arsenal's football denied Leeds a chance to regain their equilibrium and Andrey Arshavin sized up their net twice in the 20th minute, curling Nasri's lay-off over the crossbar and lazily failing to apply his foot to Chamakh's cross four yards from goal.

There were shades in that missed connection of the enigmatic tendencies which saw him booed from the field by his own supporters during the initial tie.

Schmeichel's safe hands repelled another shot from the Russian and Nicklas Bendtner missed his cue to twist the knife when Bacary Sagna's pass whipped in front of him on United's goalline. "That's why you're 52," teased the Kop, in reference to the number on Bendtner's back.

The glimmers of greater encouragement for Leeds were scarce and no better than a risky header from Arshavin that asked his keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, to gather the ball urgently at Max Gradel's feet.

Snodgrass' curling shot in the 32nd minute recorded a first attempt on target but the instructions from Grayson and his coach, Ian Miller, were increasingly anxious and indicative of the second concession that came three minutes later.

Bendtner was allowed to sprint to the edge of United's box from a benign position in his own half, and Andy O'Brien's half-hit clearance found Sagna lurking on the right wing.

The right-back showed the precision of a striker with a brutal shot which hit Schmeichel's hand and tore into the roof of his net.

Elland Road sensed defeat in the air but Bradley Johnson pricked Arsenal's bubble instantly when a sweep of his left foot beat Szczesny brilliantly from 20 yards.

Wenger raged over an obvious foul on Arshavin in the build-up but the stadium around him could not have cared less.

From a moment of clarity and supreme confidence, Arsenal strayed into a period of doubt. Jonathan Howson failed by inches to play Gradel in behind Wenger's defence when Denilson lost control of the ball on the halfway line.

If nothing else, United's goal made Wenger earn his wage during the interval.

Arsenal manager knew better than to panic, and Alex Song and Arshavin both saw the whites of Schmeichel's eyes early in the second half, Song denied by the keeper and Arshavin seen off by Snodgrass' brave sliding challenge.

Arshavin embarrassed himself again with a woeful attempt to attack Schmeichel's net while unmarked inside the box and Wenger began to realise that he would not be allowed to settle in his chair.

Fabregas and van Persie were called upon soon after substitute Davide Somma threatened an equaliser with his first touch, and van Persie's deadly header in the 76th minute restored calm.

Wenger's face at full-time was still touched by relief.

Leeds United: Schmeichel, Connolly, O'Brien (Bromby 66), Bruce, Parker, Snodgrass, Howson, Watt (Sam 79), Johnson, Gradel, Paynter (Somma 68). Subs (not used): Higgs, Collins, Hughes, McCormack.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs, Nasri (Clichy 84), Denilson, Song, Arshavin (van Persie 71), Nasri, Bendtner, Chamakh (Fabregas 71). Subs (not used): Shea, Eboue, Walcott, Wilshere.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Attendance: 38,232.

Garry Monk

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