Leeds 1 – 3 Arsenal
By Jonathan Stevenson
Arsenal produced a clinical performance at Championship side Leeds to book their place in the FA Cup fourth round.
Arsenal, who are still in the hunt for four trophies this season, will now entertain League One side Huddersfield Town in the fourth round.
The Gunners have never gone out of the FA Cup in the third round under Arsene Wenger and never lost to a lower division side, two impressive runs they kept going at Elland Road on an evening that was fraught with potential dangers.
Messi is the new Becchio
Arsenal must have been pleased that Leeds’ leading scorer Luciano Becchio was ruled out with a back injury and they missed his hold-up play and threat for long periods as the visitors produced wave after wave of attack.
Wenger had talked in the build-up to the game about how focused his side were and they looked it, taking the game to their Championship opponents from the first whistle with a pace and panache they simply could not live with.
From their first attack of any real note, Arsenal took the lead. Chamakh fed Arshavin down the left and his ball to the edge of the box found its way through to Nasri, the in-form Frenchman jinking into the box and coolly slotting into the net.
The goal rocked Leeds on their heels and it was all one-way traffic as the Gunners sought to kill the tie off, Schmeichel producing a save his legendary father Peter would have been proud of to superbly push away Chamakh’s downward header from Nasri’s free-kick.
Not for the first time, Arsenal’s principal threat seemed to be their own profligacy in front of goal, with Arshavin culprit-in-chief as he fired one shot over, completely mis-kicked four yards out in front of goal and then saw Schmeichel smartly save another 18-yard drive.
When Sagna fizzed over a cross from the right that Bendtner failed to convert by inches their frustration grew, but the French full-back took on the next opening himself and doubled their lead, taking a touch on the right of the Leeds box and hitting a scorching drive that flew in via Schmeichel’s stinging fingertips.
Just as it appeared Arsenal had taken the sting out of the tie, Johnson produced a moment of outrageous quality, thundering a left-foot bolt from the blue into the top left-hand corner of Wojciech Szczesny’s net with the Pole grasping at thin air.
As quickly as the ball had left his foot and settled in the Arsenal net the atmosphere suddenly changed, with the majority of the 38,232 crowd roaring their underdogs on.
Leeds were once more indebted to the exceptional Schmeichel for keeping them in it when he stood tall to parry away Alex Song’s near-post drive only 23 seconds into the second half, before Robert Snodgrass produced a goal-saving tackle just as Arshavin was about to pull the trigger.
Simon Grayson’s side had half-chances as they tried to haul themselves level, Billy Paynter narrowly failing to connect with a Max Gradel cross from the right and then substitute Somma diverting a Snodgrass centre over from eight yards.
Wenger sent on Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie to try and finish Leeds off and with 14 minutes left the switch paid off as the Spaniard sent Bendtner away down the right and his wonderful curling cross was headed in by Van Persie at the far post.
That enabled Arsenal to cruise through the final stages as they continued their hunt for a first major trophy since 2005.