It was Friday evening by the time everyone had finished messing around and we finally boarded a London-bound train for our trip to the Emirates. Whilst the excitement of this tie was nothing compared to the Old Trafford fixture twelve months previous, this was still a chance to remind the Premier League what they’re missing and the Leeds United fans were heading south in numbers to remind them of that.

Already pretty tipsy by the time we reached our hotel – which was somewhere in the middle of Chelsea and Fulham and a good six miles from the Emirates – the natural destination for such weary travellers was the hotel bar. Here we indulged ourselves further and by midnight I was on Twitter talking to the lad from The Chelsea Blog and seeking directions to nearby nightclubs. “I assume it’s cocktails you’re after?” brought the confused northerners response of “Like lager and lime?”

Anyway, we eventually found a bar in which we must have stood out like sore thumbs as we instantly attracted the attention of yet more Chelsea fans. Nice enough lads who made the Leeds United fans look like absolute amateurs when it comes to hating Bates and also guided us to a nearby nightclub.

I tell you this more as advice for anyone planning to attend away games in the future. When the majority of your group decide midnight is a good time to get some sleep so you can fully enjoy the next day, that is not some kind of mental prop-bet, but sound advice you probably should listen to. Instead, it was 5am by the time I passed out.

The next morning, a naked Tara Reid standing at a steam filled bathroom doorway trying to entice me in could not have motivated me to get out of bed such was my level of exhaustion and the pounding in my head. By the time I did pull myself together, took a shower and had breakfast it was about an hour before kick-off with six miles of London to cover – doesn’t sound like much, but London is like a permanent carpark.

Luckily, we made it to the Emirates in time for kick-off and were treated to another defiant FA Cup performance from Simon Grayson. Clearly, no one has told the Leeds United boss that the FA Cup has lost it’s magic as it was only a soft penalty late on that kept Arsenal from crashing out of the competition at the third round for the first time in Wenger’s 15 years.

Everything that can be said about this match has probably been written and re-written so many times by now that if you printed all the pages out you could create a trail from Leeds to London and back again. Rather than follow suit and cover every detail of a match we’ve all seen (three times in my case), I want to address some of the negative comments a couple of players have attracted despite an outstanding team effort that saw one of Europe’s best teams struggle to beat us.

Firstly, Ben Parker seems to have come in for an inordinate amount of stick on the Leeds United forums and blogs. Very few have directly linked their critical comments to the soft penalty at the death, but I think it’s safe to say he wouldn’t be receiving 90% of what he has if that penalty had never happened.

I wholeheartedly agree that by the end of that game Ben Parker was struggling. I also agree that from the off, he wasn’t fully fit and he was probably the weakest link in the team. He did get beat time and time again, but so did Paul Connolly on the opposite wing, yet no one seems to have mentioned that? Of course Parker and Connolly got beaten several times – they are two full-backs worth a combined total that is equal to Cech Febregas’ right bollock.

Ben Parker has also spent the majority of his career injured, so it’s going to take time for him to get back to his best. Unfortunately, getting Parker back to his best requires playing him whilst he’s not at his best – this too seems to have drawn criticism. Apparently, it’s OK to play him… but not for Arsenal!

Say what? The same game we all felt players should be rested for to prevent our league campaign being affected? That Arsenal? Let’s at least attempt to have some consistency.

My other major gripe is the stick Bradley Johnson has received for one incident where he got crowded out very quickly by four Arsenal players. This, for some reason, seems to have been the only moment of the entire match used to assess Bradley Johnson’s performance by some fans.

Bradley Johnson – once again – had an excellent game. Both himself and Howson in centre midfield covered every blade of grass, closed down every player, forced mistakes and were alert enough to intercept passes. Yet, Howson was a hero and Bradley Johnson receives mixed reviews because he got caught out once in 90 minutes against a Champions League side. Probably best that we sack him then I suppose…

My problem with these knee-jerk comments is that this is typical Leeds United. We pull off a surprise result at the Emirates – a game we all expected to lose convincingly – and still find reasons to complain. This was one of those games where whatever happened, didn’t matter. Let’s leave it at that and rate the players accordingly;

Schmeichel 11, Parker 10, Bruce 10, O’Brien 10, Connolly 10, Watt 10, Johnson 10, Snodgrass 10, Howson 10, Gradel 10, Becchio 10. Subs: Bromby 10, Hughes 10, Somma 10.

TSS man of the match

Every single player did Leeds United proud on Saturday, but Kasper Schmeichel stood head and shoulders above everybody and pulled off a string of top-class saves to frustrate Arsenal’s team of internationals. Cesc Fabregas said he hoped Schmeichel got man of the match… who are we to argue?

  • Thomas Hill

    Love the player ratings, Parker was a weak link I said to my mate before Walcott came on he will really struggle against anyone with pace. I think, being a little picky that we could have left the team as it was before the changes. We looked dangerous and when we brought the attacking players off we had no options. Once we stopped the onslaught of attacks from Arsenal we were booting it back to them and it just invited constant pressure. However if Grayson had made no changes and we would have been beat I would be sat here moaning we were too attacking but who am I to judge Grayson.
    Fantastic performance thought Bruce and Kasper were brilliant, at our place I would love to see us give to them more play with more freedom. If we get beat so be it, we need to concentrate on the league. Another funny article also.

  • Ollie G

    Alex E. Nigma Bruce had a fantastic game, reminded me of Paddy against Liverpool last season.

    Definitely harsh to have a go at Parker, thought everyone of our players looked knackered around the 80minute mark, and he was unlucky that Arsenal kept attacking our right side.

    Good to see the new lad Somma get a few minutes.

  • Dje

    Personally I thought Bruce excelled on the day above his usual performances for us more than Schmeichel did, so I’d have given him my Man of the Match.

    I also thought Johnson was better than Howson.

    But I don’t have any complaints about any of our player’s performances as really it was a great team performance by the players, manager and fans.

  • TSS

    @djedjedje

    It was a coin-flip between Bruce and Schmeichel to be fair, but can you really give MOTM to a centre-back when your keeper is required to pull off several world-class saves?

    • Dje

      @TSS

      I have to say that I thought a lot of Schmiechel’s saves were made easier by a lack of clinical finishing by their forwards – ie. when Arshavin was clean through in the first half: he put a low shot into the body of Schmiechel, and when Walcott was through at the end of the match and he snapped a shot straight at Schmiechel when another touch would have possibly offered him a better angle at the near post, and at other times they shot wide and no save was needed – ie. Bendtner skewing a shot wide when through in the dying minutes of the match.

      We also cleared two shots off the line via Howson and Becchio, so it isn’t that Schmeichal was only beaten by the penalty (ie. not really beaten)

      To be fair to Schmeichal though, he excelled – alla Peter Schmeichal – at coming out quickly to narrow the angle and making himself as big a possible a target as he could. So some of those Arsenal fumbled shots were as much down to him than just Arsenal f**k ups.

      I thought his best save came late on when the otherwise lackadaisical and half-heated Denilson powered a shot at the far post from the edge of the box with minutes remaining. Only a full stretch save from Schmeichel kept us in it.

      The flipside is that when a defender gets a foot-in and clears the danger, we never know if the opposition would have been through and scored. I do reckon though that Bruce (and O’Brien) put a challenge in or stepped up and intercepted passes on so many occasions that without it surely at least on one more occasion Arsenal would have been clean through.

      —–

      Anyone else noticed how football players are vocal about suggesting the opposition keeper should be man of the match, often when the game had ended all-square?

      You never hear a forward say the same about an opposition defender.

      IMHO, it must be something down to ego – “I would have scored a hat-trick if it wasn’t for the superhuman efforts of their keeper”. ie. ‘you can’t blame me for not scoring against a super-human. So I didn’t fail’. Whereas, if a player suggests the opposition defense was immense, ‘was a rock’ etc, is to suggest that himself as a forward somewhat failed/fails, and footballers aren’t very honest or brave like that.

      I only say this as I was always a keeper myself, and lost count the amount of times that at the end of the match you’d get a cheery handshake from the opposition striker with words such as ‘You really kept your side in it’ when in fact that striker had invariably fluffed more chances than those I’d saved, or one of our centre backs had kept him silent most of the game.

  • Bradley Lomas

    Who did get man of the match in the end? I don’t think ITV showed it, did they?

  • peter

    I’d give Bruce 11 too
    I don’t rate Johnson (yet) because he is not consistently good enough 1 excellent, 2 good games, 10 to 15 bad, repeat that through the season, but he has plenty of time to work on consistency at his age..
    Yet against Arsenal he was as good as anyone on the pitch for Leeds bar Schmeichel, Snoddy ( another with consistency probs) and Bruce.

    Also….. moan moan moan moan groooan!
    See ya

    Our next episode in the cup 2/1 Leeds and Wenger sent to the stands..

  • trueyorxman

    ITV didn’t show f**k all after the game, not even becchios header, they were in too much of a rush to get ‘Animals do the daftest things or summat on. Tossers!

    • Dje

      @trueyorxman

      Lol. True, ITV are shocking. Personally I was looking forward to the manager interviews – expecting lots of beaming Grayson clichés and Wengeresque complaints and blaming.

  • Tim Campbell

    More magical moments for our beloved leeds united. I’m sure uncle kenneth is rubbing his hands at the money he will make out of this tie alone

  • West Stand Rebel

    This was a fantastic result for the club and the fans and sadly I couldn’t be there….but I will be for the replay. SG is having a great season and at long last I feel proud to be a Leeds fan again. I was in Newcastle over the weekend where the silence was deafening.
    My usual gripe as I’m a grumpy old geezer. They have just announced the replay date and surprise surprise the East stand upper is open and it will only take 10 days to organise “elf and safety”…how come? We couldn’t manage to open it over Christmas and New Year presumably because there wasn’t enough lead in time. When do fixture lists come out? July isn’t it

  • henry vincent lewis

    Excellent!
    Parker is a fine player, who was running on empty after 60 minutes.
    One game in 12 months!!!
    If he can stay fit he will be our first choice.
    Bradley had a great game in attack and defence, abd bruce was top notch!
    They were all great!!
    I was surprised and pleased to see Somma come on!

    • Camaac

      I agree with all of that Henryv.
      Just seem a report on Killa’s Aussie Asian Cup trip on the club’s web-site. They refer to Harry Kewell as an ex-Liverpool striker. Air-brushed from our history.

  • Bill

    Great day, all did well Kasper and the centre half pairing superb. Parker got the run around but let’s be fair in the scheme of things he can gardly be expected to go there after one game back and close out Bentner and Walcott!

    Why did we all have to sing an Elvis song before kick off?

  • Colin

    @TSS Great story and write up as usual.

    As for Bradley and Parker – I don’t remember Bradley getting any stick on this blog after the Arsenal game?

    As for Parker – he deserves stick for the silly tug on Walcott. With a penalty shout just a few minutes before, any shirt grabbing was going to be punished. Parker was never going to get away with it and it was pointless. It was a mistake and I’ve no problems with mistakes, but this was one of those errors that was just daft and gifted Arsenal with a Parker pen :)

    And this brings me onto the real Parker point – i think he made the tug because he was tired, he got beat and got frustrated. I’m all for letting him get match sharpness, but let him do some training to get his fitness and pace back first. We’ve got Bessone available (i think he’s fit isn’t he). Is Grayson saying that a physically unfit Parker is better than Bessone? If so, then why did SG buy Bessone on a 3 year deal?

    Parker won’t get his fitness and sharpness back in time for the replay. If Walcott starts and is up against Parker, then it could be embarrasing.

    • Dje

      I think Parker was foolish with the tug back on Walcott – but only because if he was going to tug Walcott’s shirt then he should have yanked the right sleeve which was out of sight of the ref rather than the left sleeve which was in full view.

      Alternatively he might have shoved Walcott rather than tug him back, as it’d have been far harder for Walcott to react adequately to this and still earn a penalty and yet it should have been enough to put Walcott off his stride and limit his shot (which is all the tug back managed in the first place).

      Ah, hindsight huh.

  • TSS

    @colin

    Sorry Colin, but your points are totally invalid.

    Parker has been training for a while to regain fitness, but he needs the games for that final push. Atsenal was an entirely irrelevant game we didn’t care about winning and one that would give him an ideal work-out. There was no sense whatsoever in not playing him.

    The only thing I can see some sense in (but don’t as it didn’t matter what the result was) is that Grayson could have perhaps taken Parker off for Hughes after 60-70 minutes.

    Bessone is a joke of a footballer who should never humiliate us again by wearing the white shirt.

    • peter

      90 mins against real class was tough on him.

      Good lesson though, can’t get big headed for at least a couple more years now!

    • Irving08

      No game is irrelevant to the players. It does a disservice to players who are fit and willing to give their all to play anyone who, through no fault of their own, may not be quite ready for such a testing encounter; of course, if there was no alternative that is another matter. In addition performances like Saturday’s add to the charisma of the club and therefore make us yet more attractive to ambitious players.

    • Colin

      @TSS Let’s leave Parker for now. If we still had McCartney, Parker wouldn’t get near the first XI, even if he was fully fit.

      I have to question “it didn’t matter what the result was”. I think it did matter and it meant more to most Leeds fans than any other game so far this season. I think Leeds have to take these games very seriously – look at how many posts we’ve had on this site since the game, not just from us but also Arsenal fans. We’re all over ITV, we’ve got another game on terrestrial TV and the top tier is being opened for the first time this season. We’re all over the papers and it’s all positive.

      Sure, the ultimate aim is to gain promotion. Agreed. But the attention we get from this sort of result gives us so many positives – more bums on seats, more profit, increased TV and sponsorship money, more media coverage and the stock value of our players is rising.

      But for me it gives something that’s very important – belief, pride and entertainment. The Arsenal game was brilliant and I think that’s something that we need every now and again.

      Leeds were unlucky not to take the win at the Emirates. Arsenal will be favourites in the replay, but they won’t fancy playing at a full Elland Road on a Wednesday night, so this one isn’t over. Should Leeds win it, then it’s another home draw against Huddersfield Town, where you’d fancy Leeds and then we’d be in the last 16. And then anything can happen, but either way a win win – you could get a minnow or another Champ team (we could be in the quarter finals) or you might get a big Prem team (back on TV and the money comes in).

      The FA Cup is worth pursuing. If we beat Arsenal at ER and then Hudds Town, we become the danger team. No-one will want to draw us. And the rest of the Champ rivals will get a little bit more fearful of Leeds. All of a sudden, in our champ rivals eyes, Snodgrass becomes more dangerous, players will stand off him, Gradel seems quicker, Schmeichel seems bigger and more daunting etc. etc.

  • Side Before Self

    As regards Parker, SG must have known that Parker would tire before some of the other lads and that we might need someone to cover. Add that to the fact that Walcott was in the squad I’d have brought White back from Oldham, put him on the bench and put him on as soon as Walcott came on. Whites not much slower than Walcott. Then after the game white could have resigned for Oldham. Am pretty sure that’s allowed

  • Gryff

    I seem to remember (though may be wrong) that BJ got crowded through dallying at least thrice in the opening half hour. After that, he was quite good. But to make such blunders in the formative stage is poor. I was saying the same about Howson’s errors after Derby & Forest at the start of the season. He’s improved massively, but why is BJ still making the same mistakes he was making a few months ago?

    In terms of Parker i’m with the OP: he’s had a very long time out and no matches until recently. Compared to BJ (who would take personnel from central midfield) or Bessone (who was shocking in his 10~ matches) Parker was very competent.

  • scott

    Nice to see you saying more good things about johnson than you used to. you used to give him alot of stick

  • Max.

    Johnson had an excellent game and really seems to have upped his game. As with Becchio before, I may be changing my mind on him. He did have one run where he wandered around dribbling at the edge of his own area, and I was having kittens, is that what everyone is on about?

    Agreed on Parker – he did look both unfit and out of shape though. Gary Speed on the TV comments pointed out that a big part of the reason the penalty was given was that Walcott had been turned down just beforehand; makes Walcott’s “confession” look ingenuous, since that dive did have an impact on the game in their favour.

    I don’t know what Bessone looks like in training, but Simon’s obviously completely written him off.

  • Jim Barnett

    Great article TSS. Parker deserves credit – his 2nd game back in practically a year and he has to play Arsenal? Well he played ten times better than Bessone ever has in a white shirt. (That said, I would take McCartney back in a flash).

    I think the stick that Johnson was getting earlier on this site was justified…the big word that always came up was inconsistency…we all know he’s got talent, but his tendency to play like Roberto Carlos without the shooting ability was becoming irritating. Now…he’s keeping it simple, pressing the opposition and showing presence – ‘industrious’ is the word that comes to mind. He’s certainly backing up his words with performances.

    Hope to see us strengthen at left back, centre mid and centre half in this transfer window…if Grayson does this then anything can happen this season, FA Cup included.

    p.s in the words of Andy Gray….Alex Bruce – “take a bow son”

  • Matt BB

    just got a midfielder from everton, zac thompson, though everton website says hes a right back, sensible signing then as cover for Connolly.

  • henry vincent lewis

    I think he is in the ‘One for the future’ category matt.
    He’s only 18 and I suppose there not sure what his best position will be?

  • Gryff

    Indeed, just look at Andy Hughes. He was 30 before Grayson moved him from being a barely L1 standard central midfielder to a very passable full-back! Alan Smith has fallen further back down the field over his career, and Lucas Radebe was known to play midfield and in goal!

    If he can play full-back, though, then it’s a good signing even in the immediate term for me because apart from Connolly, Parker & Hughes I can’t think of any full-backs whom I would trust for 90 minutes…

  • henry vincent lewis

    Good points gryff!
    It shows now how wise Simon was to give Hughsie another contract, as he can cover both full back positions and is ‘never-say-die’.
    Bessone is a strange one. I thought we would have been given another game in the first team, but Simon must have seen enough?

  • Zomoniac

    Apparently nobody other than me saw Johnson doing what he does best then. About 10 minutes from the end, he was dispossessed by someone around the halfway line (I forget who, might’ve been Fabregas), to which his immediate reaction, as usual, was to turn around and jump in with two feet. Fortunately he completely missed him, otherwise it would’ve been a clear straight red, and knowing Cesc’s record probably a year on the sidelines nursing a broken leg for him.

    But on the whole I thought he was solid. Got caught in possession once or twice, but I have no real complaints beyond that completely reckless lunge. Parker, whilst needlessly giving away the penalty, I’m reluctant to give much stick. I feel sorry for him really, his second game back after over a year out, and after 75 minutes of running like his life depends on it he finds himself up against a fresh-legged winger with the pace and skill to leave even most Champions League class full backs lost for ideas.