Arsenal v Leeds United: Keown expects a cracker INTERVIEW

Mark Viduka, the former Leeds United striker, was once asked which defender he least enjoyed sharing a penalty area with.

"Martin Keown was the most annoying," Viduka said. "He would always pinch me at setpieces."

All is fair in love, war and professional football, especially on a playing field as uneven as that awaiting Leeds.

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On the last occasion when they and the Gunners crossed swords in the FA Cup, Viduka got the better of Keown, but Leeds were annihilated nonetheless. This particular fixture was never a game for the faint-hearted.

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Arsenal have become a model of finesse under Arsene Wenger, a description which implies a degree of softness. The tactics of so many Premier League sides in fixtures against Wenger's give the impression that his squad are seen as susceptible to physical aggression, applied in the name of stopping Arsenal play.

Leeds, as a Championship club, might be more inclined towards intimidation than teams familiar with the Emirates Stadium. Tomorrow's third-round tie – a draw Keown describes as a "cracking start" to an FA Cup weekend – is a prime opportunity for United's manager, Simon Grayson, to break from tradition and show an appetite for destruction.

"He'd be wrong to do that," Keown said. "You kick Arsenal and they get angry, and when they're angry they play you off the pitch. There's no

sense in trying to bully them, not this team.

"I've had my share of tear-ups with Leeds and this game always had that little fiery undertone, especially when David O'Leary was manager. He was ex-Arsenal and, without fail, you found yourself staring at 11 fired-up players. But I don't expect much of that tomorrow.

"You're going to get intense football and a cracking start to the weekend, but it won't be a running battle. Leeds aren't that sort of team any more than Arsenal are. The traditional way to stop Arsenal is sometimes the best – balls into the box, attacks down the wings and crosses for strikers to feed on. It's not what they're used to."

It is not what Leeds United are used to either. Grayson, in his earliest days as manager of the club, earned a reputation for deliberate, dependable tactics – a 4-4-2 man, as he once called himself – but their time in the Championship has been notable for its sense of freedom and his fluid formations. Grayson's team score goals as they concede them, an attitude Wenger might privately admire.

Keown, whose many years of service at in red and white were given in three different decades, saw more games against Leeds than he can remember. It is not so difficult to recall his last, a 4-1 win for Arsenal at Elland Road in 2004. United's porous state invited a ruthless slaughter, eliminating the club from the FA Cup's third round. Relegation from the Premier League swiftly followed.

Leeds have not been back to Arsenal since, and their most recent meeting was so long ago that the Gunners have moved homes in the interim. Nearby to where Highbury once housed Wenger's team, Leeds will find an arena which holds a claim to being the finest in the country.

The Emirates Stadium is a setting which suits United, as the Premier League would. "We'll have 8,500 supporters with us and they're not fans who've come out of the woodwork," said Grayson. "That's a hardcore. We could have taken 20,000."

"You know where a club of that size ought to be," Keown said. "But you earn the right to be in the Premier League and no club proves that point better than Leeds.

"The way they collapsed – from the semi-finals of the Champions League, for goodness sake – was pretty unbelievable, but when you operate as they did you're asking for trouble. You're putting your right to be in the Premier League at risk. It's not a free ticket.

"Their run in the Champions League was a real feather in the cap of the players who took them there, but the club didn't have the money to do it. They've paid in full for those times.

"I'm like many other people in that when I think of Leeds United, I think of that side in the 1970s – a big, proper club. That's what they are. And, by the looks of things, they've turned the corner."

Keown retired in 2005 and is now an employee of the BBC. Recently, he had the pleasure of Grayson's company when United's manager took part in an edition of Football Focus, enhancing the profile of a manager who prefers to fly beneath the radar of excessive publicity. For two years, his players have made obscurity impossible.

Promotion from League One is his most credible achievement but Grayson may be better known nationally for his hammering of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United in the third round of last season's FA Cup. Wenger cannot have failed to remember that when tomorrow's tie was drawn.

"I'm sure he remembered it," Keown said. "In fact, I'd go further than that and say that he's probably spoken to his players about it. The first thing I thought about when the draw was made was the fact they gave Manchester United a nightmare at the same stage last season.

"Arsenal should fancy themselves against anyone at home – and you couldn't describe this as a bad draw for them – but I'm cautious about it, from Arsenal's perspective. That Manchester United tie is fresh in the mind, fresh enough to pay attention to.

"I met Simon a while back and I found him to be a very genuine, likeable and down-to-earth guy. An optimistic character. I don't see him coming to Arsenal fearing the worst. Wenger will have Leeds mapped out, but I think he'll make changes. I'm not under-estimating Leeds and he won't either."

The question for Wenger is where the FA Cup registers in his priorities this season. Wednesday's goalless draw with Manchester City kept Arsenal in the hunt for the Premier League title and they are still participants in the Carling Cup and Champions League. Wenger broke from his policy of fielding junior professionals in League Cup fixtures this season but a congested schedule is an issue.

Arsenal are due travel to Ipswich Town for the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final four days after Leeds' visit. Few days pass without a mention of how long it is since an Arsenal side managed by Wenger won a major trophy, domestically or in Europe. Five years later, he is past the stage where the FA Cup can be a secondary consideration.

"The FA Cup can complicate your fixture list because it often falls between the quarter-finals of the Champions League," Keown said. "It's extremely difficult to fight on as many front as Arsenal are, and sometimes something has to give.

"But the FA Cup's not secondary, and at a club like Arsenal I don't think there's any such thing. Back in the day, that was true of Leeds as well. It'll be true of them again."

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