By Richard Clarke
Arsenal marched in the FA Cup Fourth Round with a comprehensive 3-1 win at Leeds on Wednesday night.
Arsène Wenger’s side had needed a 90th-minute penalty to save this tie at Emirates Stadium 11 days earlier but, this evening, they dominated throughout.
Samir Nasri stole a goal in the fifth minute and then, after Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh had missed point-blank chances, Bacary Sagna plundered a second just past the half-hour.
Leeds rallied immediately when Bradley Johnson’s thunderbolt reduced the arrears but Arsenal would kick-on after the break.
Fourteen minutes from time, they ended the discussion when Robin van Persie headed home from Nicklas Bendtner’s inviting cross.
Arsenal had been a little lucky in north London, tonight Leeds were fortunate the visitors were so profligate in front for goal.
Still, they got the job done and can now look forward to a Fourth Round tie against Huddersfield at Emirates Stadium on January 30.
This is a busy month for Arsenal and so Wenger’s side did its usual shuffle.
Bendtner, Chamakh, Kieran Gibbs, Denilson, Arshavin and Sagna all came in.
Cesc Fabregas, Van Persie, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue all dropped out.
This game was a throw-back. Arsenal had been involved in some teak-tough encounters at Elland Road in the 90s and Noughties. Since then Leeds had been down to the third tier of English football but, if their performance in the first game was anything to go by, they were on the way back to the top flight.
Wenger had admitted his side had lacked focus in that match. But this evening it was different straight from the start.
Arsenal bossed the first half and the only concern at the break was that they had not gained the advantage they deserved.
The game had barely settled down when they took the lead. In the fifth minute, Arshavin tucked the ball inside from the left, Bendtner tried to collect on the edge of the area but Nasri swept it away, danced past the final defender before coolly slotting home.
Six minutes later it should have been 2-0. Sagna was hauled down on the right by Ben Parker and Nasri swung over the free-kick. Chamakh had escaped his marker six yards out and made solid contact with his header. However Kasper Schmeichel made a wonderful one-handed save. The keeper then recovered to block Johan Djourou’s follow up.
It was starting to become an Arsenal procession. In the 19th minute, Bendtner fed Chamakh on the edge of the area. He and Nasri played one-touch passes for Arshavin to sidefoot a shot over the bar
Then Chamakh fired a low ball across the face of the area. Arshavin timed his run perfectly to meet the cross. Any positive touch would have doubled Arsenal’s lead but the Russian’s effort was timid.
A couple of minutes later, Arshavin’s drive from distance forced Schmeichel into a low save away to his left. After that, Laurent Koscielny sent a raking ball into the right-hand channel for Sagna to collect. He raced into the area and crossed low for Bendtner but the Dane timed his slide a second too late.
Arsenal were not just creating clear-cut chances, they were creating tap-ins. By the half-hour, they had already manufactured the opportunities to put the tie to bed. But they only had one goal to show for it.
That changed in the 34th minute, Bendtner thundered through and exchanged passes with Nasri on the edge of the area but miscontrolled the return. Andy O’Brien’s clearance fell straight to Sagna on the right. He advanced and fired a rocket shot into the far corner of the net.
It should have all but killed off Leeds but, almost immediately, the home side would respond with a Howitzer of their own. There was little on when the ball fell to Johnson around 30 yards out. He let fly and sent a swerving effort into the top corner.
The Leeds crowd tried to roar their side level before the break but, despite pressure, they did not conjure up a clear chance.
Twenty seconds into the second half, Schmeichel made another sparkling save when Nasri fed Alex Song and the Cameroon midfielder tried to lift the ball over the keeper.
The Danish stopper has been brilliant throughout this tie. But, a couple of minutes later, he made a rare error by dropping Nasri’s free-kick on the line before gathering.
Leeds were trying to create pressure but Arsenal were still having all the chances. In the 55th minute, a wonderful one-touch move involving eight players would have ended in a goal had Robert Snodgrass not swept the ball away from the feet of Arshavin at the last second.
The Russian was having a difficult night. On the hour, Song’s errant, trickling cross found him at the far post. He hacked it horribly over the bar. An in-form Arshavin would have buried it.
Arsenal were still on top but still missing chances. And, every so often, Leeds made them fully aware of the slenderness of the lead they held.
In the 65th minute, Max Gradel, another star of the tie, sent over a penetrative cross towards Billy Paynter at the near post. The home side were within an outstretched leg of drawing level.
Straight after that chance, the striker was replaced by Davide Somma. The South African’s first touch saw him knee a shot behind at the near post.
With 20 minutes left, Wenger brought on his Big Guns - Fabregas and Van Persie – for Arshavin and Chamakh. The manager clearly wanted to get the job done.
Fabregas nearly did it when he curled a free-kick inches beyond the far post.
In the 76th minute, Van Persie did finish the task by steering home a header from Bendtner’s pin-point cross. The celebrations told the story of the goal. Two team-mates ran to the scorer, three to the provider.
The Dutchman nearly curled home another in the dying minutes. By now Leeds were spent.
They had been wonderful at Emirates Stadium but were well-beaten on home turf this evening.
Referee: Mike Dean
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