One of the major talking points prior to the game was the return of King Henry. As stated in the previous post, at Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, our collective stance over this issue was cautious. While there was no doubt about positive influences on the young players in the dressing room and training ground, whether he could make an impact on the pitch had remained to be seen. Henry scoring the winning goal to send Arsenal into the fourth round of the FA Cup on his return was a fairytale scenario and made the game something special.
Samir Nasri was spotted by a TV camera in the Emirates, watching the game (Hope he has paid for it). How did he feel when he saw Henry receiving a hero's welcome by all Arsenal fans and expressing his love for his old Club with overwhelming emotions? One of other celebs spotted by the camera was David Beckham, who travelled from Manchester where he watched his old club beating their local rivals in the FA cup tie on the previous day to London, because one of his sons, Romeo, is a big fan of Arsenal, who insisted to watch the game. Before the game, many Arsenal fans feared that the younger generations of Arsenal fans, like Romeo, who don't remember how Henry earned his legendary status at Arsenal, might feel disillusioned in case that he failed to impress them.
RVP praised Henry's "brave" decision as the King no longer needed to prove anything, but his reputation and legendary status were at stake. Our current leading striker attributed the legend's decision primarily to his love for the game, but his reaction to the goal showed that the reason behind his return was nothing but his love for the Club. He has certainly lifted all Arsenal fans as well as the team, who joined him to celebrate his goal, including Szczeny who rushed all the way from the other end.
As well as the feel-good factor, Henry's return provided the much-needed goal-scoring power for the team. Before his instruction, his side struggled to find the net. Especially, Arshavin and Ramsey worked hard and did everything but score. The lack of composure in frong of goal and precision has been Arsenal's shortcomings for some time this season. Hopefully, the younger players will learn lessons from Henry, while Henry will continue his contribution to Arsenal's goal tally.
Another major talking point was team selection. RVP was holidaying in Dubai, meeting Diego Maradona, while Gervinho had left to join the Ivory Coast national team who are preparing for the Africa Cup of Nations. As Wenger tried hard to secure Marouane Chamakh's service for this game, the Morocco international was expected to start. Many expected Ju-Young Park to lead the line up front alongside Chamakh, but it was Arshavin who got the nod. Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the right flank as widely expected. Arsene Wenger stated prior to the match that he would field a strong side, which centred around the first-team starters. As he suggested, the midfield consisted of the usual triumvirate: Ramsey, Arteta and Song. Miquel and Coquelin were this night's full-backs, which had already stretched due to Vermaelen's recent injury and Djourou's one-match suspension. After this game, the full-back crisis worsened as Coquelin hobbled off the pitch with a hamstring injury, which is expected to sideline him for a few weeks (what used to be called a full-back drought is now cited as the curse of Arsenal full-backs). Koscielny and Squillaci formed a central defensive partnership for the night, which often proved disastrous last season. Why Mertersacker did not start or wasn't even on the bench was a mystery to me. On the Arsenal site, He was speaking as if he had been sure to take a part in this tie.
Arsenal's comfortable win was predicted as Leeds had been struggling to cope with injuries to their key players. However, Simon Grayson had his tactics right by concentrating available players on defence and gave Arsenal a hard time.
At Las Mimosas bar, our venue once again after the two-week closure, we were saying that the Budweiser Man of the Match choice made the other players who played for full 90 minutes look pathetic, but what Henry did deserved it. Within 10 minutes of coming off the bench, he achieved what the other players couldn't to do for 90 minutes, scoring a goal.
Largely not troubled, but did well to keep a clean sheet against Leed's late charge .
Played well once again out of position, at right-back this time. A hamstring injury forced him off the pitch in the 33rd minute to be replaced by an understudy right-back, Nico Yennaris.
Played OK. Nearly scored (some of us thought he actually scored). Just his presence is ominous.
Reliable as usual. He has been the most improved Arsenal player this season since Walcott has let us down in the recent few games.
Made several good forward runs, but lost the ball in the final third (after all, he is a central defender). Played well, considering the fact that he played out of position.
As usual, he covered a lot of ground from the box to box, right to left, working hard. Orchestrated attacking moves, creating chances, and showed some fancy footwork and skills. His finishing let him down again.
Had a couple of shots, one of which was wide, the other was too tame to even sweat the keeper.
His passing after tackles is often awful, but he occasionally produces those killer passes you would expect from a creative attacking midfielder, such as the one that found Henry this night and the one that set up RVP's superb volley against Everton. He deserves more credit for the pass to Henry.
He started on a subdued note, but gradually got into the game and started the second half brightly. His powerful shot forced a great save from the Leeds keeper. Replaced by Walcott for some reason in the 68th minutes. Is Wenger over-protective about the exposure of the promising youngster?
He often get criticism for his laziness, but you cannot fault his workrate in this match. He was all over the pitch, working hard. Especially, he kept going despite a series of rough treatments by Leeds players. He had three chances inside the opening three minutes, the last of which was the best in terms of time and space he was given as well as the central position, but the lack of composure led him to blast it over the bar.
I have started to run out of words to defend him.
Replaced injured Coquelin in the 33rd minute. No non-sense defence and good going forward. No problem.
Came on the pitch in the 68th minute for Chamakh and the rest is history. For the winning goal, the timing of his run was perfect (Relays convinced me that the Leeds player on the far side played him on side and also he timed his run carefully. They should show a freeze frame picture with a white line for the defence line and another for Henry's position in order to silence all the accusations by Tottenham supporters and the Irish), his touch was impeccable and his finish was clinical. Wenger revealed that his only instruction to Henry before coming on the pitch was to play through the middle, but he knew exactly what he was required to do once he was on the pitch. He is an intelligent world-class player. Welcome home!
The other one of the 68th minute double substitution. Put in a couple of good crosses, but did not make a big impact.