THEY came within 12 minutes of another famous result, but FA Cup glory ultimately eluded Leeds United this year as they could not quite repeat their exploits of the last two seasons in a third round tie at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
United produced a brave backs to the wall display and were still level at the break, but were beaten by a second half goal from their old nemesis Thierry Henry, who marked his return to the Gunners by scoring with just his fifth touch after coming on as a substitute.
With Leeds defending well the game remained goalless until the 78th minute when Henry made it a fairytale return by taking a pass from Alex Song to score in trademark style from the left channel.
It proved the only goal of the tie with Arsenal holding out against a late United onslaught and it is back to the Championship now for Simon Grayson’s men.
In the first half they rarely threatened to score and although the Gunners also failed to find the net they had most of the play and saw Andrey Arshavin and Sebastien Squillaci waste good chances with Aaron Ramsey going close.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikael Arteta and Arshavin again threatened to break the deadlock after the break, but United held on and finally began to put together some decent moves of their own with Ramon Nunez forcing Wojciech Szczesny into a save with a strike from distance after the keeper had raced out of his area but not cleared the ball.
Just when the Whites were right in the game and dreaming of a possible upset win, Henry’s goal broke Leeds hearts, although they produced a spirited finish with Szczesny having to make further saves to deny substitutes Michael Brown and Ross McCormack.
Arshavin missed a great chance to put the tie to bed and the Gunners almost paid the price in the 90th minute when Szczesny had to make his best save of the night to deny United’s third sub, Mikael Forssell.
Danny Pugh fired in a shot from distance in injury-time, but an equaliser eluded Leeds and they went out of the cup, at least with their reputation intact.
Manager Simon Grayson praised his players for making it so difficult for Arsenal.
He said: “I’m extremely proud of the players and the way they performed.
“We had to defend and had to be patient, disciplined and organised, which we were.
“I thought we grew in stature as the game went on and the younger boys began to settle into the game a little bit better. We created some half-decent opportunities and the respect Arsene Wenger showed to us was that he had to bring in some pretty big-hitters to win the game.
“It was a massive lift for Arsenal when Thierry Henry came on and he got into that position where he has been many, many times. Unfortunately Zac Thompson, who played really well, slightly ball watched a little bit, but many players have done that when Thierry Henry has been around them.
“Our players learned tonight. We had an average age of 23 or 24 and hopefully this can be a performance from which we can push on for the rest of the season.
“We had some young boys out there and they have become men tonight.
“We‘ve lost the game, but we can be proud of what we’ve done. We’ve got to use tonight as a springboard to hopefully be here this time next year on an equal playing field as a Premier League team.
Leeds United 0
Monday, January 9, 2012
FA Cup, round three
Arsenal: Szczesny, Coquelin (Yennaris 33), Koscielny, Squillaci, Miquel, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott 68), Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Arshavin, Chamakh (Henry 68).
Leeds: Lonergan, Thompson, Lees, O’Dea, White, Townsend, Clayton, Pugh, Vayrynen (Brown 60), Nunez (Forssell 81), Becchio (McCormack 74).
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.