Leeds United ended Arsène Wenger's first FA Cup campaign back in 1997 and yesterday came within minutes of defeating him again. Only Cesc Fabregas's penaltysaved Arsenal in a tie that left the club captain voicing his frustrations.
Fabregas and his team have not won a trophy since 2005 and another opportunity almost slipped away following Robert Snodgrass's opener in the third-round tie here.
The link between the two goalscorers was Barcelona. Snodgrass was invited for a trial at the Nou Camp after impressing at the Under-20s World Cup but, incredibly, chose to stay in Scotland. Fabregas' affiliation with the Spanish league leaders is more widely known, having started his career there before being pursued by them for a return in recent seasons.
Wenger again answered questions about his skipper's future after the final whistle but chose to focus on the midfielder's positive impact in the match after bringing him on as a substitute just before the hour mark.
"Straight away, Cesc gives us something with the speed of his passing," said Wenger. "It shows how important he is for quick passing in our midfield." Wenger turned to Fabregas after a fine performance from opponents looking for promotion from the Championship.
Offering a reminder of past glories was Eddie Gray in the press box, covering the game for Yorkshire Radio. Gray was part of the 1972 team who defeated Arsenal at Wembley in the FA Cup centenary final, the club's only triumph in the competition.
Leeds' aim, under Ken Bates' ownership and Simon Grayson as manager, is to play at the Emirates Stadiumevery season by establishing themselves in the top flight again. Supporters sing "we're not famous anymore" but it is less than 10 years since Valencia defeated them in the Champions' League semi-final, and they have gone down to League One and back up to the Championship since.
They remained level at half-time thanks to Kasper Schmeichel. The Dane saved a one-on-one chance from Andrey Arshavin and a powerful drive from the Russian. He also parried Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner efforts.
Snodgrass scored the opener from the penalty spot in the 54th minute after Max Gradel cut inside from the left and was tripped by Denilson. Fabregas, who appeared to be angered by Denilson during the game, said: "At this stage when you are a professional footballer you cannot risk these types of penalties. It's so easy for them."
Wenger's frustration was aimed at Arshavin, who also received jeers from some Arsenal fans for his display. But Fabregas's presence galvanised the hosts and they piled forward. It needed resolute performances from the sons of the former Manchester United pair Peter Schmeichel and Steve Bruce to keep Arsenal out until the death, with Alex Bruce starting at centre-back.
"Schmeichel had a fantastic game and so did the two centre-backs, including Bruce," added Wenger. "Maybe these two names want to make my life difficult forever."
The drama at the finale started when Theo Walcott, also on as a substitute, went to ground – he would later admit to diving – and Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot, only to be overruled by his linesman who apparently flagged for offside.
But Dowd did award a spot-kick when Walcott was tugged back by Ben Parker, with Fabregas sending Schmeichel the wrong way. Grayson said: "We can take immense pride from what the players have done, from their attitude and performance."
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Schmeichel
Match rating: 7/10
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