Arsenal v Leeds United: Whites only have pride to lose - Matteo

A Championship manager could waste his life devising ways of beating Arsenal, but success on that front invariably depends on two things – flawless performances from one to 11 and the rub of the green from start to finish.

There's never any shame in trusting to luck at the Emirates Stadium. The most gifted teams in the Premier League need it.

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Certain tactics have been proven to give Arsenal headaches but tactics are only part of the battle. There are always those horrible moments when players run riot and swarm all over you; when Arsenal become impossible to defend against.

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With or without good fortune, deciding how to play at the Emirates is a nightmare.

If you go there intending to fight fire with fire, you invariably finish with your fingers burned. Arsenal are serious heavyweights when it comes to ambitious football and playing them at their own game can be suicidal.

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But as I found in my career, shutting up shop is just as risky. The likelihood is that one of their talismans will pick you off eventually.

Increasingly, managers are reaching the conclusion that it's better to go out in a blaze of glory than it is to leave the Emirates with your tail between your legs.

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There is a greater willingness from top to bottom in the Premier League to travel to Arsenal, throw caution to the wind and go for broke. In reality, what's the worst that can happen?

Nine times out of 10 you'll lose regardless of your system, your players or your attitude. Arsenal are a class act at home. Showing ambition against them often earns you a pasting, as Blackpool discovered in August, but it does pay off from time to time.

Proof of that is the fact that Spurs, Newcastle and West Brom have already won there this season.

So how should Leeds United, as a Championship club, approach Saturday's

FA Cup third-round tie in London?

Firstly, they should force themselves to feel confident – confident about their ability to make a game of the fixture and avoid a humiliation. Pride is the only thing they can lose against Arsenal.

It is no slight to fall short at the Emirates but it hurts to lose badly. If one team in the country has the skill and the swagger to make another look stupid, it's Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.

But if victory is beyond Leeds, respectability is not. Their recent form in the Championship tells them that.

Secondly, Simon Grayson's players should do the one thing that Arsenal dislike – press them, hassle them and bully them for every second of the game. Whenever I watch Wenger's team, the one sign of weakness is their ability to cope with aggressive sides or teams who pick a fight with them. Arsenal will have a huge advantage in terms of natural talent on Saturday but they will not be stronger than Leeds and ought not to be fitter. As it happens, Grayson's style of football is perhaps the style that Wenger's side are least comfortable with.

I'm sure that Wenger was happy enough when this tie came out of the hat. From his point of view, it's a decent game at home to a Championship club in a tournament he hopes to win.

When I hear him speak, it sounds as if he genuinely believes that Arsenal can lift every trophy they're chasing this season. I'm pretty sure you'll see his ambition in the strength of team he fields at the

Emirates on Saturday.

All the same, I'd expect him to give his squad a brief history lesson before kick-off. He's got a young pool with a large number of foreign players in it. As daft as this sounds, they might not be too familiar with the history and traditions of Leeds United. It's not like the clubs are regular opponents.

For example, the size and fever of Leeds' travelling support might come as a surprise to those who don't know about it. Certain Championship sides would take a couple of thousand to the Emirates. Leeds will have 8,500.

The chances are that they'll dominate the atmosphere for most of the game and Wenger won't want it to be a factor. He knows that, man for man, this tie is Arsenal's to lose.

But the issue for Wenger is not so much the fans themselves as the effect a following like that will have on Grayson's squad. As we saw at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane last season, Leeds are influenced by the thousands who travel with them. The team don't have the option of rolling over at the Emirates (not that they'd choose to) because 8,500 people would give them hell for it.

Whatever else he expects from Leeds, Wenger will be ready for plenty of blood and thunder.

The honest assessment of Saturday's tie is to say that if every one of Arsenal's players performs as they can, it's a game the Gunners will win. To be fair to Leeds, you could say that about most of Arsenal's Champions League games.

But this tie holds more significance for Grayson than last season's matches with Manchester United and Tottenham. To go by the Championship table as it stands, a game at Arsenal could conceivably be a league fixture for Leeds in little more than nine months' time. Grayson's existing players will fancy that prospect, as any professional would.

But Saturday's a chance to prove that they're up to it – to walk the walk alongside the most skilful side in the country.

Demonstrating their potential is not about beating Arsenal. Very few teams are capable of that. It's about convincing Grayson that they are safe and sound in very deep waters. As always in these games, the performance matters more than the result – which is not to say that you

can never have both.


When a footballer is out of contract or getting close, potential offers are as meaningless as they sound. What you want is a concrete commitment, written in ink and laid on the table.

Andy O'Brien was in an ideal position last week with contracts available at Leeds United and Cardiff City. The fact that he chose to stay at Elland Road tells me that he sees Leeds as a club with vast potential –- more, it would seem, than Cardiff.

Loyalty plays a part in these decisions but ambition does too and I'm sure he'd have taken Cardiff's offer if doubt existed about where Leeds were going or what they might achieve.

The deal with O'Brien is a crucial signing, guaranteeing Leeds a defender whose class has infected the rest of their squad. And if he classes Leeds as a bigger and better club than Cardiff then his judgment is spot on.

Cardiff have built themselves a new stadium and seem intent on getting out of the Championship. But which club would I rather see in the Premier League?

No contest. Ninety nine per cent of people would say the same. You can take the Leeds out of the top flight but you'll never take the top flight out of Leeds.

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