Leeds United had come so close only a week and a half prior. For the second year running, they went one goal ahead against a genuine Premier League title contender. Unlike the trip to Old Trafford, on their visit to the Emirates they did not manage to hold out, Robert Snodgrass’ penalty cancelled out by Cesc Fabregas’ late spot kick.
There was always a sense that the late draw had knocked the proverbial stuffing out of the idea of the Whites once again reaching the fourth round, even with a replay at Elland Road on the cards.
From the minute the teamsheets came out, the size of Leeds’ task was clear. While Arsenal made only two changes, they were major. Gone were Sebastien Squillaci and Tomas Rosicky. In their place Arsene Wenger selected Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri. Both would have a telling influence on the game.
Leeds had also suffered an injury blow, and the fact that Billy Paynter, who was still waiting for his first Leeds goal, had to start ahead of Luciano Becchio did not particularly bode well for Simon Grayson’s side. Becchio was the Elland Road side’s leading scorer and an integral part of how they played.
It took only five minutes for Nasri to have the sort of impact he was unable to have in the north-London tie. Marouane Chamakh played the ball to Andrei Arshavin out wide. The ball found its way to Nasri, and the French international dribbled his way into the area before putting the Gunners ahead.
By the 35th minute, Arsenal’s lead was doubled. This time it was Sagna who rewarded Wenger’s decision to play him. The right-back burst forward down the right before unleashing an unstoppable shot beyond Kasper Schmeichel and into the back of the Leeds net.
Leeds seemed on the floor, looking like it would require something genuinely special to get them back into the tie. They got it.
Bradley Johnson had been the subject of criticism from Leeds fans that season, especially as a contract dispute rolled on.
In one instant he changed that. The ball rolled to him on the edge of the area, and it was always clear what he was intending to do. He didn’t so much shape to shoot as inform everyone around him that that he would really like to put the ball in the top corner. Even the diving Wojciech Szczesny could not stop the ball.
Cue pandemonium in Elland Road. Leeds had something to hang on to, Wenger something to fear.
Grayson said after the game: “Bradley shoots like that in training and most of them end up in Wetherby but he hit that one so sweetly. It was a goal worthy of winning a match.”
The one goal gap explained his 71st minute decision to bring on Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas.
It paid off within only five minutes. Cesc Fabregas sent the ball out wide to Nicklas Bendtner, who crossed it in for Van Persie. As he so often did that season, the Dutch striker found the net. The top-flight side had their victory.
Leeds United 1
Arsenal 3 (Nasri 5, Sagna 35, Van Persie 76)
FA Cup third round replay January 19, 2011
Leeds United: Schmeichel; Connolly, Bruce, O’Brien (Bromby 66), Parker; Snodgrass, Howson, Watt (Sam 79), Johnson, Gradel; Paynter (Somma 68). Unused subs: Higgs, Collins, Hughes, McCormack.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs; Nasri (Clichy 83), Denilson, Song, Arshavin (Van Persie 71); Chamakh (Fabregas 71), Bendtner. Unused subs: Shea, Eboue, Walcott, Wilshere.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).