Arsenal v Leeds tonight in the FA Cup, here's a rundown of some classic matches featuring endless replays, Merse at his finest and a four goal masterclass from Thierry Henry who returns this evening...
Leeds 1-2 Arsenal
FA Cup Fourth Round Third Replay, February 16 1991
Arsenal and Leeds met four times in 20 days in the 1991 FA Cup fourth round, in a tie that contributed to the FA’s decision to abolish multiple replays at this stage of the competition. The first meeting was a 0-0 draw at Highbury, with extra-time replays at Elland Road three days later (1-1) and back in London on February 13 (0-0) failing still to separate the sides.
It’s no wonder they were so evenly matched. Arsenal went on to be crowned champions this season, losing just once, while Leeds, fresh from storming to the old Division Two title, finished fourth before claiming the title themselves in 1992.
A fine solo effort from Paul Merson and another on the stroke of half time by Lee Dixon to gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead in the fourth match. Despite Leeds pulling one back through Lee Chapman, they couldn’t recover and saw their record of 11 consecutive home wins ended. The teams had played just one league game between them since the original tie, so after 420 marathon minutes they were understandably glad to see the back of each other.
Leeds 2-3 Arsenal
FA Cup Fourth Round Replay, February 3 1993
The clubs didn’t have to wait long for another FA Cup humdinger, though it came under different circumstances when they met two years later. Both were struggling in the league and aiming for respite in the cups. It worked out more as planned for the Gunners though – after edging this tie they went on to become the first team to win both domestic cups in the same season.
Like in 1991 though, they produced two whirlwind affairs. George Graham and Howard Wilkinson were managers of similar ilk – favouring hard-runners (Ray Parlour, Gary Speed), big tacklers (Tony Adams, David Batty) and goal poachers (Ian Wright, Lee Chapman) – and battled out a 2-2 thriller at Highbury in the first game.
Alan Smith gave Arsenal the lead in the replay at Elland Road, before Carl Shutt’s close range effort and Gary McAllister’s rocket free kick looked to have won it for Leeds. But Ian Wright squeezed a shot in off the post in the dying moments and then won it in extra time. Wright had been the difference, and went on to score the opener in the first match of the final against Sheffield Wednesday.
Leeds 1-0 Arsenal
Premier League – May 11 1999
Around the turn of the century Leeds made a habit of ending Arsenal’s title chances in gut-wrenching fashion for Gooners. This game, more so than four years later at Highbury, is still one of the most painful – for the manor of the defeat, its significance, and the actions of two Arsenal players who aren’t remembered for anything else apart from their involvement in this game.
Kaba Diawara, a journeyman French striker, and Nelson Vivas, an Argentina international defender, came on as late substitutes for Arsenal as they frantically chased the game. Diawara wasted two great chances, one goal bound effort being headed off the line by Lee Bowyer, before Vivas cowardly allowed a cross to find Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who scored an 88th minute winner.
It was pure, cold heartbreak. If only Diawara’s had scored, most of you reading this would know who he was. If only Nigel Winterburn hadn’t been forced off with injury, Arsenal might have defended the title. It wasn’t to be, and United went on to clinch the championship with a win over Spurs on the final day. It’s still hard to watch.
Arsenal 2-3 Leeds
Premier League – May 4 2003
From Arsenal’s point of view, the situation was similar as in the same month of 1999 – beat Leeds, and defending the title was very much still on. The game carried far more significance than four years earlier for the away side though. After a season of exodus, in which Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Keane amongst others were all sold to fend off financial meltdown, survival became the aim, and they sealed it here in spectacular fashion.
Harry Kewell’s blockbuster on the half volley stunned Highbury in the fifth minute before Thierry Henry equalised on the half hour. Then, for the third consecutive season, Ian Harte scored at Highbury, beating a slow-to-react David Seaman with a free kick. Dennis Bergkamp touched in to make it 2-2 after an hour, and it looked good for Arsenal to go on and win and take the title to the final day.
But Mark Viduka, who had scored 12 in his last nine games, had other ideas. He turned Oleg Luznhy and curled a shot round Seaman with a minute left to snatch the win, and although it handed the title to Leeds’ bitter rivals Man United, it meant they had secured top flight football. Highbury fell flat, all except for the right hand corner of the Clock End where the Leeds supporters were celebrating a famous victory.
Arsenal 5-0 Leeds
Premier League - April 16 2004
“I’ve seen most things in this league in the last 25 years. But I haven’t seen anything like him,” was how Andy Gray chose to sum up Thierry Henry’s four-goal performance when champions-elect Arsenal demolished relegation-bound Leeds at Highbury in 2004. Thanks to transfer developments over the past fortnight there is an outside chance the legendary Frenchman could be involved again this Monday, though both his contribution being as scintillating as it was here, and Gray being allowed near a Sky mic, seem unlikely.
It was Arsenal’s 33rd game of their undefeated season, and arguably their zenith performance. The slick, luminous green playing surface became a Friday night dancefloor for Henry, Pires, Bergkamp and Wiltord, who continuously sliced through a Leeds team resigned to defeat. They would be relegated two games later after defeat at Bolton.
Henry’s fourth was his finest. He headed straight for goal after collecting Pires’ lay off on the half way line. Every time a tackle got near him, he stepped up a gear to get away, before a trademark finish past Paul Robinson. It was his 38th that season – just two fewer than Leeds had managed as a team. Arsenal became champions at Tottenham nine days later.
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