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Arsenal vs. Leeds: FA Cup match preview

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Arsenal vs. Leeds United
Monday, January 9, 2012
Kickoff: 2:45 PM EST, Emirates Stadium, North London
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Deportes
Form: Arsenal LWDWL | Leeds DLLLW

Arsenal welcome Leeds United (again) to the Emirates stadium for an FA Cup 3rd round match tomorrow. Last year, it took two cracks at the egg to get past this same club in the cup, and hopefully this year the players can spare themselves a trip to Leeds for a replay and take care of business on the first try. Leeds currently sit 8th in the Championship, a mere point out of the playoff spots, while Arsenal are fifth in the Premier League, one point behind fourth place.

But throw all of that out the window tomorrow. This is the FA Cup, and weird things can happen (remember Arsenal's visits to Leyton Orient and Leeds last year).

Leeds have plenty of offense this year (led by Ross McCormack with 11 goals and Robert Snodgrass, scorer of last year's penalty against Arsenal, with 8 goals and 9 assists). They have 39 league goals, but they've also conceded 36, including four away at Barnsley recently, so they're susceptible. Nonetheless, they should not be taken lightly by an Arsenal side that has struggled recently to score. The arrival of Thierry Henry into the side could help that, although he is unlikely to put in a full 90 minutes, and might come in off the bench.

Many of Arsenal's starting XI will probably not see the pitch tomorrow, except in defense, where there is little choice in many ways. Lukas Fabianski is hurt still, so Manuel Almunia will probably start in goal (he was on the bench for Fulham). The defense will be a mix of young and old, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris likely to start at left and right fullback, while Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny are likely to feature at center half. It's hard to imagine Wenger pairing Squillaci and Per Mertesacker, just because they are similarly slow, positional defenders.

Francis Coquelin and Alex Song should start at the double pivot in front of defense, now that Emmanuel Frimpong has gone on loan to Wolves. The attack is where things get interesting: Park Chu Young is likely to start at striker. Robin van Persie must rest surely, even though it's been seven days since Fulham (when he looked absolutely tired). Andrei Arshavin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Yossi Benayoun will probably start behind the striker, or perhaps Tomas Rosicky on the right to offer experienced cover for Yennaris, while Chamberlain's youth can be protected somewhat in the middle.

But then there is that man; one doubts that Henry will start the match, although if he did, he would be subbed off. I find it more appealing to imagine him coming on in the second half, though, in place of Arshavin or Chamberlain on the left or in the center, probably about 60 minutes in. In his first tenure at Arsenal, although he played as a striker, he did like to drift in from the left at times, so it's easy to imagine him in that spot, although he proved adept at playing a more free role in the middle in New York. Either way, he won't go a full 90, having not been playing much recently, but it's impossible not to see him playing some part tomorrow.

Typing that sentence made me grin.



Yennaris Squillaci Koscielny Miquel

Song Coquelin

Rosicky/Benayoun Chamberlain Arshavin


Prediction: Arsenal score within the opening 15 minutes, and the game stays at 1-0 for most of the match. Henry comes on in place of Arshavin on 64 minutes. The Emirates Stadium grows wings and flies away to the north pole, where everyone plays together under the northern lights as Henry scores two goals. Leeds doesn't mind, though, as all of her children get shiny new buckles for their shoes.