As the dust settled on the Emirates Stadium a week-and-a-half ago, it was only natural that Leeds United should ask whether their chance of a spectacular upset had gone.
Clubs as proficient as Arsenal are not in the habit of offering their scalp twice.
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Simon Grayson declined to be so defeatist and his goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, was positively non-plussed by the suggestion that tonight's FA Cup replay might be a formality. "Why?" he asked. "This is football and there's no such thing in football."
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United's 1-1 draw in London on January 8 was tinged with regret, but only slightly. Grayson and his squad did not repent at length over their failure to see through a victory that was neither demanded nor expected of them. The act of soul-searching fell instead to Arsenal.
Cesc Fabregas' 90th-minute penalty bought the Premier League club a route out of jail in return for a replay at Elland Road, an unwanted appointment that they will fulfil this evening. Arsene Wenger remarked ruefully that the timing of a fifth match in two weeks was "not the best" but he was patently relieved to have a foot in the FA Cup at the end of the original third-round tie.
Schmeichel, in any case, realised that the outcome at the Emirates could have been worse. Without his agile save from Denilson in the last minute of injury-time, Arsenal would have emerged unscathed from a deep crisis.
"That's the Premier League for you," Schmeichel said. "That's what teams like Arsenal do and that's why they are where they are. I'm happy that it didn't happen but I'm still gutted that they managed to score at all."
For 89 minutes, a strong if largely second-choice Arsenal team had made hard work of beating him. Schmeichel rescued United's outfield players by outwitting Andrey Arshavin in the 11th minute, and Jonathan Howson and Luciano Becchio repaid the favour by clearing the ball from their own goalline in quick succession before half-time.
Only when Ben Parker succumbed to fatigue and pulled the arm of Theo Walcott inside United's box was Fabregas able to guide a penalty down the centre of Schmeichel's goal.
The Danish keeper – a player who reportedly interested Arsenal while his future was open to speculation last summer – survived the firestorm which followed as Arsenal pursued an improbable winning goal but his afternoon was not quite breathless.
For a time after Robert Snodgrass opened the scoring with a penalty of his own in the 54th minute, Arsenal lost the knack of playing their way into Schmeichel's area. Wenger's response was to send on Fabregas and
Walcott from the bench, a compelling answer to Arsenal's emergency.
Schmeichel is not prepared to assume that the strain on him tonight will be any more severe. "Time will tell," he said. "They're obviously a very good team and I had a bit to do down there but we should be confident about our chances. We're playing with confidence at the moment.
"You can't say our chance has gone because it's a game of football, 11 versus 11. Anything could happen on the night and I don't think we've got anything to fear.
"If you play with fear, you'll lose more games than you win. That's a fact. I don't think there's any reason to play like that or to think like that.
"The difference between good players and great players is that great players play without fear. It's a matter of expressing ourselves, enjoying ourselves and doing what we did first time around. With our players, we've got a chance."
Saturday's 4-0 victory over Scunthorpe United, as clinical a win as Leeds had recorded all season, made that point for them. So too did their performance at the Emirates.
Fabregas credited Schmeichel as his man of the match – "he has to win it," Arsenal's captain said afterwards – and Wenger was as complimentary as he tends to be.
Reports over the weekend told the Frenchman that he will find Leeds in much the same mood at Elland Road this evening.
United's meeting with Scunthorpe was, at face value, an easy warm-up against Arsenal, won inside half-an-hour and achieved against a club carrying the brand of relegation. It was significant, however, in answering persistent questions about how much damage United's dalliance with the FA Cup might do to their league season. Schmeichel said the perceived threat of a collapse in concentration was ridiculous.
"If you can't focus for 90 minutes then you've got a big problem," he said. "You really shouldn't be in the game.
"Scunthorpe actually put us under lots of pressure. It was a hard game and the statistics showed that I had about 25 kicks in the first half. That's very unusual. But goalkeepers always want clean sheets and I think it was good preparation for Arsenal.
"The Scunthorpe game was all about showing our mentality – about whether we could harry them off the ball. The result wasn't just down to we did with the ball but what we did without it. We closed them down and stopped them from playing, and that shows a great attitude. We'll
need it again."
The attendance on Saturday cleared 25,000 and United will add around 13,000 to that figure tonight. The gaps in the crowd which were evident at the Emirates Stadium 11 days ago are unlikely to be on view in Leeds.
Having generated the largest away crowd ever seen at Arsenal's ground. Grayson's players will have the support of a capacity attendance in their own premises.
Schmeichel expects the atmosphere to enhance the confidence of United's players, without being detrimental to Arsenal's performance.
The Gunners, he said, have been around the block too many times and in too many competitions to be intimidated by the crowd. But at Elland Road 12 months ago, Tottenham Hotspur relied on a strong second half and an immense display from Jermaine Defoe to carry them into the FA Cup's fifth round.
The fourth-round place at stake tonight should be as fiercely contested.
"Arsenal have played in front of big crowds before so I don't think it will make a big difference to them," Schmeichel said. "They're probably used to it. But the crowd will be a great thing for us. It's a boost, definitely, and I expect us to do well. I'm confident."