LEEDS United manager Simon Grayson was proud of his players once again, but saw them outplayed for large chunks of the third round FA Cup replay with Arsenal at Elland Road.
There was no doubting the effort of the United team and they scored possibly the goal of the tournament when Bradley Johnson (pictured) found the top corner of the net with a real screamer, but Grayson admitted the Gunners had stamped their class on proceedings.
He said: “We showed some good qualities and if you are going to get knocked out of the FA Cup you might as well have it done by one of the best teams in Europe if not the world.
“They showed what they were all about. The way they started the game was quite worrying for us.
“But we got the goal which galvanised us - Bradley shoots like that in training and most of them end up in Wetherby, but he hit that one so sweetly and it was a goal worthy of winning a match.”
It took Arsenal just five minutes to open the scoring when Samir Nasri found an alarming hole in the centre of the Leeds defence to finish confidently past Kasper Schmeichel and they threatened to run riot as their slick passing regularly undid the home side in the opening half hour.
But with Schmeichel making a string of fine saves, most notably to keep out Marouame Chamakh’s header, United hung on in and were working their way into the contest when stung by the Gunners’ second goal.
It came from a great strike by right-back Bacary Sagna, although Schmeichel did get his hands to the shot and the Arsenal player had been presented with the ball by an unnecessarily panicky poor clearance by Andy O’Brien.
Leeds’ response was swift as Max Gradel’s cross was only cleared to Jonny Howson and he teed up midfield partner Bradley Johnson for a fantastic strike that saw the ball still rising when it powered into the back of the net.
The Whites, roared on by a 38,232 crowd, finished the half strongly, but could not maintain the impetus despite chasing every lost cause after the break.
Schmeichel kept them in the game with saves from Alex Song and Nasri while Andrey Arshavin managed to clear the South Stand with a horrible shot when well placed in the box.
Billy Paynter could not quite get on the end of a cross from the industrious Max Gradel before the disappointing centre-forward was replaced by Davide Somma, who almost scored with his first touch, stabbing an effort just wide from close range.
That was it as far as chances went for the hosts as Arsenal brought on the big guns in the shape of World Cup finalists Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie - to inevitable chants of “who are you” - and controlled the closing quarter.
Fabregas went close with a free-kick, but Van Persie did get a goal when heading home Niklas Bendtner’s cross and it was all over bar the shouting.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger paid tribute to the Leeds spirit shown over the two ties.
He said: “I was impressed by the way they were organised and their spirit and physical qualities I think they have a good chance to be in the play-off. We miss Leeds in the Premier League.
“We got a warning in the first game and learned that lesson and that showed my players are intelligent.
“With determination, speed and style in our game, Leeds would have needed something special to beat us tonight. Once we got in front we didn’t let Leeds back in and overall it was a convincing game.”
Leeds United 1
(Nasri 5, Sagna 35, Van Persie 76)
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
FA Cup, round three replay
Leeds: Schmeichel, Connolly, Bruce, O’Brien (Bromby 66), Parker, Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Gradel, Watt (Sam 79), Paynter (Somma 68).
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Gibbs, Bendtner, Song, Denilson, Nasri (Clichy 83), Archiving (Fabregas 71), Chamakh (Van Persie 71).
Referee: Mike Dean