Arsenal served another instalment of their Paisa Vasool football giving the spectators complete value for money with plenty of thrills and chills all through the game. The important point, from the Gunners’ point of view of course, was qualification to the next round and that was achieved fairly comfortably in the end.
I was a bit surprised, actually not surprised but disappointed, with the starting line-up. As I’d mentioned in the preview, rotations are a necessary evil but once again Wenger’s selection seemed to lack balance.
On the other hand it can be argued, and was mentioned in the comments yesterday, that any side that Arsenal put out should be enough to win this tie.
For the first half hour that seemed to be the case. Leeds were a bit overwhelmed, partly by Arsenal’s pressing and partly by the challenge, and the Gunners took the lead inside five minutes.
Gibbs found Chamakh who played it wide to Arshavin. The Russian played a first time reverse pass and the Moroccan had the awareness to leave the ball for an onrushing Nasri. The Frenchman is in sublime goal scoring form these days and just waltzed between the defenders before placing it away from the keeper into the back of the net.
Arsenal had found the perfect response for an electric atmosphere.
In the next 20-25 minutes the Gunners could have buried the game. Chamakh met a corner when completely unmarked around the six yard line. His header was on target but not strong enough. Still the save from Schmeichel was commendable. Arshavin had a chance to attack the back post when Chamakh fired in a wonderful cross but the Russian completely missed the ball. Minutes later Arshavin did test the Leeds Keeper with a strike from distance that drew another good save and won Arsenal a corner.
Koscielny played a fantastic ball over the top for Sagna who got in behind, again on the right. His cross was a little too powerful and a sliding Bendtner couldn’t get a touch.
The second goal finally came after a good run from Bendtner who took the ball around the halfway line and darted towards the centre of the penalty box. The Dane’s attempt for a one-two with Nasri flopped when his touch to control the return was heavy but the defender’s clearance went only as far as Sagna on the right edge of the penalty area.
The full-back had plenty of space and was able to line up and fire a thunderbolt that went in despite stinging the hands of the Keeper. Sagna has a cracking shot with both feet and hopefully this will encourage him to try his luck more often.
Leeds had offered nothing in attack all this while but got one back within a couple of minutes. Bradley Johnson outdid Sagna when he let fly from outside the box. It can be argued that Arshavin should have been awarded a free-kick in the build up to the goal, but questions must be asked about the lack of closing down in that area of the pitch.
Leeds’ supporters and players found some life after the goal and the game became a nervy affair. There was no real action for the rest of the first half with both teams fighting it out in midfield.
The Gunners started the second half brightly and Song got a shot on target within 30 seconds of restart. Soon after, Nasri tested the Schmeichel again with a free-kick that hit the target but didn’t have enough pace.
In the 53rd minute an excellent counter attack led to an opening for Arshavin. Snodgrass made a brilliant last-gasp tackle just as the Russian was about to pull the trigger. Nasri could have done better with his pass which looked a tad slow. Subsequently, Arsenal won a number of corners without really making it count.
Leeds managed to carve an opening in the 64th minute when a cross from the left went across the face of the Arsenal goal with no attacking player making contact. In general, Leeds got some joy down their right flank but didn’t test Szczesny often enough.
With 20 minutes or so to go Arsene introduced the big guns, RvP and Fabregas. After that Leeds had no chance. El Capitan went close with a free-kick before Van Persie settled the tie.
Cesc found Bendtner in space down the right. The Dane put in a measured cross and RvP rose high to head it home at the back post. Simple and effective.
Fabregas also brought a lot of calmness to Arsenal’s play while his control and movement frustrated the Leeds players. Cesc was fouled 5 times in the last 20 minutes while no other Arsenal player was fouled more than twice. And that’s not counting the number of times the ref allowed play to continue because Fabregas rode the challenge. The gulf in class between the sides became more and more apparent as time ran out.
Ultimately Arsenal progress but it could have been a lot easier. Playing Arshavin and Bendtner on the wings with Nasri in midfield affected the balance of the team. I can’t help but feel that if Arsene had picked Cesc or Rosicky for any one of those three the game would have been much more comfortable.
Szczesny: Very shaky in the first half, didn’t command his area at all. Should have called and taken charge of certain situations. Can’t blame him for the goal. I’m happy the youngster is getting the chance to make his mistakes in such games.
Sagna: Solid. Thunderbolt of a goal. Good to have him back after a rest.
Djourou: Won a lot in the air. Good positional play and composure on the ball.
Koscielny: Another superb performance. Dominant in the air and on the ground, very composed on the ball, good tackles, interceptions and distribution.
Gibbs: His decision making was awful. Went forward when he should have stayed back far too often. Defending wasn’t very good either and Leeds got some openings down his side.
On the whole, three of the back five were very good but the two youngsters showed they lack experience. Arsene played Song on the left to provide better cover as the Arshavin – Gibbs axis was defensively weak. Le Boss deserves credit for that tactical change.
Denilson: Decent game, helped the defenders well enough. Can’t fault him for effort.
Song: Incredible work rate. Bailed out Gibbs on a number of occasions. His passing was a little off but can’t blame him after such an effort.
Nasri: Brilliant in the attacking third but was missing from the central and defensive areas.
I thought Nasri played too high up and Arsenal were effectively playing 4-2-4. In the first half hour that caught the hosts off guard and led to a number of chances. But in the middle half hour or so, Arsenal were under pressure and Nasri should have dropped much deeper. Cesc showed how it’s done after he came on. Can’t blame the Frenchman much as he hasn’t played in this position often enough. That’s the reason I’d earlier mentioned that Cesc or Rosicky should have started this game. Upon reflection, Denilson and Song deserve a lot of credit for working hard as a two man midfield.
Bendtner: He’s not a winger but did fairly well, especially when he got the ball. Made some interesting runs, one excellent assist, and also contributed to the second goal. It was nice to see him chasing back to the defensive areas when Sagna was out of position. That he didn’t have the technique to tackle effectively is a different matter.
Chamakh: provided an outlet for balls and held it up well. Played a part in the first goal. Should have scored from his header. Good work rate and often dropped deep to chase the ball.
Arshavin: Woefully out of form but can’t blame him for effort. On one occasion he chased the ball all the way from the left flank to the right eventually winning possession with a tackle. Tried shots, one touch passes, running with the ball, and helped in defence but when you’re out of form, a lot of the times everything you try makes you look that much worse. I think he needs to come off the bench for some games in the final few minutes. If he can score a couple of goals that way his confidence will come back. And he just has to work harder in training on his shooting. It was his strength but is letting him down.
The attackers moved well and showed good understanding but finishing could have been better.
Subs: Cesc just owned the pitch from the moment he came on. RvP scored a good goal and showed he was hungry for more.