Good evening everybody: Thierry Henry has been selfishly hogging the headlines ahead of tonight's FA Cup third round tie, despite his attempts to keep his futile attempts to keep his return to the Emirates on loan from the New York Red Bulls as low key as possible.
"It looks more like I'm going to be a bench player," he said upon being unveiled last Friday."Or maybe not on the bench but more of an 'out of the side' type player. I hope people are not going to compare what I did here before."
Heaven forfend that anyone would compare anything Henry might do for Arsenal now with anything he did before (11 goals in 11 matches against Leeds United, including four in one game back in 2004), not least because this minute-by-minute reporter is too busy trying to figure out what being an 'out of the side player' entails, how much it pays and where I can get possibly the only well paid professional footballer's gig for which I am eminently qualified.
The word on the street is that Henry will be adopting the 'bench player' role tonight, seated in the Arsenal dug-out where he will count down the minutes before replacing one of starting attackers Marouane Chamakh and Chu-Young Park, who will both get a run out what with Gervinho being on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast.
All the signs tonight point to an Arsenal victory, with the hosts having progressed from thye third round in each of the last 15 seasons, and lost only one of their last 35 FA Cup matches at home, in 1997 to ... Leeds.
For the Championship side, the prognosis for tonight is bleak. The problems already facing under-pressure manager Simon Grayson were exacerbated last week when central defender Patrick Kisnorbo succumbed to long term injury, joining Robert Snodgrass and Jonny Howson on the sidelines.
"Arsenal should win this easily tonight," mused one colleague, who I won't name for reasons that will soon become apparent. "I saw Leeds earlier this season and they're awful. They're like cavemen hoofing it up in the air and pushing each other."
Arsenal: Szczesny, Koscielny, Miquel, Squillaci, Coquelin,
Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Arshavin.
Subs: Martinez, Park, Henry, Walcott, Benayoun, Miyaichi,
Leeds: Lonergan, Thompson, Lees, O'Dea, White, Townsend, Pugh, Nunez, Clayton, Becchio, Vayrynen.
Subs: Taylor, Bruce, Brown, Sam, Forssell, Parker, McCormack.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
This just in: While David Beckham was getting a big hug from Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus upon his arrival at the Emirates for tonight's match, Barcelona's Lionel Messi has just picked up his third consecutive Fifa Ballon d'Or award at a ceremony in Zurich. Who's happier? I'd say Beckham. That Gunnersaurus is very cute.
On ESPN: TV's Rebecca Lowe is standing behind the pitchside desk asking Robbie Savage and Martin Keown the hard questions. While some nearby Leeds fans give a rousing rendition of song detailing what they see as Robbie's penchant for - to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld - treating his body as an amusement park, some Leeds players warming up on the pitch in the background are trying to hit the trio with footballs. It's a farce.
And that's a direct hit! No sooner had I typed that passage than one of the Leeds players - I don't know who - earned himself a massive roar of approval from his own fans by scoring a direct hit on the side of Martin Keown's head from about 30 yards. That's a magnifient shot, which briefly incenses the former Arsenal centre-half. Clearly raging, he wheels around as if to say "Who the eff hit that?", only to quickly remember he's on live television, turn his frown upside-down and give them an unconvincingly matey thumbs up instead. It's an FA Cup match from the Emirates - surely they could find Rebecca and chums a studio or broom cupboard from which to broadcast?
You can see Martin Keown getting whacked with the football here. Let's hope the match is as entertaining.
Not long now: The teams march out on to the pitch, with Arsenal kitted out in their usual home strip and Leeds in their away kits of black shirts, shorts and socks with luminous yellow 'pockets', under-arm triangles and trim.
1 min: Arsenal kick-off the last of the third round ties in this season's FA Cup with Budweiser. It's a strangely appropriate sponsor, considering how flat and weak this once great competition has become in recent years.
2 min: Andrey Arshavin gets off two longe-range shots in quick succession, but neither troubles the Leeds goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
3 min: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tries to free Marouane Chamakh down the right wing, but Leeds centre-half Darren O'Dea sticks out a leg and puts the ball out for a throw-in.
4 min: Andrey Arshavin fires high over the bar again, having been teed up by Marouane Chamakh with a lovely pass. That was a woeful effort from the Russian, who was unmarked and inside the penalty area, but showed no composure whatsoever. He should have scored or, at the very least, forced the goalkeeper to make a save.
5 min: It's all Arsenal, who are finding plenty of space in which to run amok. Arshavin gallops out of thye centre-circle with the ball at his feet before playing the ball forward to Chamakh, who is dispossessed by Tom Lees.
7 min: Andre Arshavin has removed his gloves and thrown them over the sideline. Is that gauntlet chuck-down a challenge to Leeds, or has he just realised it's actually a fairly balmy evening in north London?
8 min: Ramsey plays the ball wide to Arshavin on the right flank, prompting assorted Arsenal players to advance and begin pinging the ball around the edge of the final third, trying to find an opening. Ignasi Miquel eventually hammers a cross in from the left flank, but it's behind Chamakh, who can only head it away from the Leeds goal.
10 min: Leeds finally get the ball out of their own half and into the Arsenal penalty area, when a free-kick from inside their own half is hoofed towards Luciano Becchio. He jumps and makes contact, but alone in the penalrty area surrounded by several Arsenal defenders, is powerless to do anything constructive with the ball. Arsenal clear.
13 min: There seems to be a particularly subdued atmosphere at the Emirates tonight, even by the stadium's notorious standards of shush. I suppose it will take something special to top the excitement generated by Martin Keown getting smacked in the head from afar by that Leeds player in the warm-up.
15 min: Arsenal win a free-kick wide on the right, which Marouane Chamakh whips across the face of goal towards the far post. Unmarked, Sebastien Squillaci sends a thumping header fizzing wide of the left upright. Atrocious effort - he should have scored.
16 min: For Arsenal, Ramsay charges from the halfway line to the edge of the penalty area, left of centre, before rifling a shot goalwards. His effort flies high and wide of the top left-hand corner, but not so high and wide that it won't have given Leeds goalkeeper Andy Lonergan minor palpitations.
19 min: Andrey Arshavin goes down holding his face after being on the receiving end of a body-check from Zac Thompson in the Leeds right-back position. He should get a free-kick, but referee Mark Clattenburg declines to blow his whistle.
21 min: Andrey Arshavin canters down the left flank, before cutting inside and along the edge of the penalty area, then dinking the ball behind the flat-footed Leeds defence for Aaron Ramsey to chase. There's too much weight on his pass, but the Welshman persists and gets to the ball before it trundles out for a goal-kick. He crosses for Chamakh, but the referee blows his whistle and awards ... a goal-kick. Belated flagging from the linesman there.
23 min: Ramsey tries a shot from a few yards outside the penalty area, which takes a deflection off a Leeds player and goes out for a corner. From the ensuing dead ball, the ball drops kindly for Mikel Arteta, who tries his luck, only to see his effort roll harmlessly wide of the right upright.
24 min: From a Leeds free-kick on the right flank, the ball is played into the Arsenal box. From a narrow angle at the far post, Mika Vayrynen tries to volley goalwards, but his effort is blocked and the ball breaks to Luciano Becchio, about 20 yards from goal. He has a pop but sends his effort high over the bar.
26 min: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is penalised for a foul on Aidy White while chasing a marvellous pass inside the full-back from Aaron Ramsey. It's a woeful decision, as replays show that White just fell over in his efforts not to be outpaced by the young Arsenal winger.
27 min: Arsenal full-back Francis Coquelin goes down clutching his hamstring. The seven-man list of knackered Arsenal defenders looks set to increase by one.
29 min: Arsenal substitution: Nico Yennaris, an 18-year-old of Cypriot and Chinese extraction who hails from Leytonstone in London on; Francis Coquelin off.
33 min: "YouTube already pulled the Keown video 'due to copyright restrictions from ESPN UK'," harrumphs Jerry Slaff. "It wasn't even during the game!"
34 min: As loath as I am to hear a bad word said about Rebecca Lowe, who I've met and can confirm is very nice, I have to say I'm most unimpressed with ESPN's coverage of English football. I did notice their FA Cup coverage is sponsored by a company that is to all intents and purposes a glorified loan shark, which may explain their lack of a studio. Surely no producer in his or her right mind could possibly think presenting live coverage involving Robbie Savage, outdoors in January and in front of 5,000 Leeds supporters is A Good Idea.
38 min: In near funereal silence, Arsenal plod foreward again, this time attacking down the left flank. By the time I finish typing that sentence the action has switched to the right, then back to the left, where Andrey Arshavin does that thing of his where he picks up the ball, cuts inside, runs into a Leeds player and then falls over.
39 min: Mika Vayrynen rails against the injustice of being penalised for fouling Mikel Arteta about 40 yards from the Leeds goal, in the inside-right channel. Arteta sends the ball towards the mixer and it's put out for a corner, which the Spaniard also takes. Leeds clear. This is woeful stuff. Woeful.
42 min: Darren O'Dea clatters into Marouane Chamakh as the Moroccan chased a ball that had been played into space down near the corner flag on the right-hand side. The Arsenal player does well to stay on his feet and continues the chase, but referee Mark Clattenburg decides against playing the advantage, awards the free-kick and books O'Dea.
44 min: Nothing comes from the ensuing free-kick.
46 min: Ramsey tries a shot from just outside the penalty area that that takes a deflection off Aiudy White and goes out for a corner. Arteta sends the ball into the penalty area, where Squillaci heads harmlessly wide.
Half-time: That was an awful first half. For all their dominance, Arsenal have barely come close to scoring and look completely toothless up front. By his own sluggish standards, Andrey Arshavin has done plenty of work, but it speaks volumes that even when he wakes from his torpor and puts in an actual shift, even against Championship opposition, he seems incapable of making an impression.
Half-time analysis: On ESPN, Rebecca, Robbie and Martin gamely try to analyse what passed for the first half action, while the Leeds fans pelt them with hotdogs and serenade them with an impressive repertoire of obscene chants.
This from Lou Roper: "Your report suggests that Mr Clattenburg is on course to make his customary large number of errors tonight (beginning with his haircut)," he writes. "But I suggest blowing up for a foul rather than playing advantage when Chamakh had the ball (a disadvantage by definition) cannot be one of them."
Second half: "We do apologise if you've been offended by any of the language that's come from the Leeds fans tonight," says Rebecca Lowe, from behind her pitchside desk, before cutting back to the action.
I met Rebecca Lowe one night and she's an absolute lady. I bored the bejayzus out of her at great length with an extended, drunken, boring whine about something or other that was bothering me at the time. She listened patiently and clucked sympathetically in all the right places, when a lesser woman would have made her excuses and left. She deserved better than that then and she deserves better than this now.
48 min: The second half continues in much the same vein as the first, with Arsenal doing all the huffing and puffing ... up to a point. Once they make it to the edge of the final third, they invariably run out of ideas.
49 min: I suppose the best way of describing their style of play is the way they play when they eschew shooting in favour of trying to walk the ball into the net, except without the shooting or trying to walk the ball into the net.
50 min: AMAZING SCENES!!!! Leeds win a corner when Yennaris puts a Ramon Nunez cross from the right flank behind, just in case.
51 min: Andrey Arshavin attempts the spectacular only to volley a cross from deep high and wide of the Leeds goal, when a deft touch into the centre would have teed up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who'd eluded his marker and was in a marvellous position to slot home. On the Arsenal bench, Arsene Wenger throws his hands in the air in exasperation.
54 min: Arsenal corner. Mikel Arteta pings the ball high towards the near post, where Andy Lonergan punches clear. The ball drops for an Arsenal player and is pinged wide, where Marouane Chamakh crosses from the left. The ball is pulled back to Mikel Arteta, whose low drive from 15 yards brings a fine save out of Andy Lonergan.
57 min: Arsenal turn the screw. Aidy White blocks a close-range effort from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moments after Andrey Arshavin had dragged a low diagonal effort wide of the right upright.
58 min: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain crosses from the right flank, with Marouane Chamakh lurking in the centre. The ball goes out for a corner off Zac Thompson's head. Nothing comes from the corner.
60 min: Meanwhile on the touchline, Thierry Henry has been warming up for about 10 minutes.
60 min: Leeds substitution: Mika Vayrynen off, Michael Brown on.
61 min: "Just ask Rebecca Lowe out," writes Ali Kinnaird, apparently unaware that the ESPN presenter is spoken for. Meanwhile back on the pitch, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stings Andy Lonergan's palms with a decent shot from distance.
65 min: My sources tell me it was the substitute Michael Brown who hit Martin Keown in the face with the football before the game. Hats off to him, because it's the most entertaining thing to have happened tonight by a distance.
67 min: Yellow card for Andros Townsend, for arguing with Mark Clattenburg over who got the last touch on the ball as it went out for a corner.
68 min: Arsenal substitutions: Thierry Henry and Theo Walcott on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh off. The Emirates crowd finally manages to stir itself into something approaching a mini-frenzy to welcome back their returning hero.
69 min: "You've got to hand it to Henry for coming back to give his old club a helping hand, don't you?" writes JR in Illinois. "It sure must be handy for Wenger to have him on hand. Do you think Henry can handle top flight English football?" As an Irishman, I see what JR has done there, but it doesn't sting. I wasn't particularly bothered by Thierry Henry's infamous handball when it happened and I'm certainly not bothered by it now. These things happen and I'd expect any Irishman to do the exact same thing as Henry did in similar circumstances.
72 min: Arsenal corner, which Walcott delivers to the near post. Aaron Ramsey picks up the ball, plays it back outside the penalty area, from where it's dinked toward the edge of the six-yard box. Taking no chances, Darren O'Dea heads the ball over the bar for a corner, from which nothing comes.
74 min: Leeds subsitution: Luciano Becchio off, Ross McCormack on.
76 min: "Does Ali Kinnaird really think it's just that easy to 'ask Rebecca Lowe out', when you obviously and painfully are carrying a crush on her, especially after making a drunken buffoon of yourself?" asks Daniel Strauss. "Not that this is referring to anyone in particular, of course, I'm just saying." I should hope it doesn't refer to anyone in particular, as it would be a massive exaggeration to say I made a drunken buffoon of myself.
GOAL! Arsenal 1-0 Leeds United (Do you really need me to tell you who scored it?) A couple of yards inside the Leeds penalty area, Thierry Henry peels off his marker Zac Thompson, latches on to a marvellous diagonal Alex Song pass from the centre and slots a low diagonal shot across the bows of Andy Lonergan and just inside the right upright.
80 min: After scoring, Thierry Henry wheeled away in celebration, stood in front of some fans thumping his chest repeatedly, before cantering down to the Arsenal dugout, where he gave Arsene Wenger a big hug. Where's Gunnersaurus when you need him? Probably slumped in a latrine somewhere, swigging from a bottle of vodka and wondering how his thunder was stolen by Thierry Henry.
82 min: Leeds substitution: Mikael Forssell on Nunez off.
83 min: For the sixth or seventh time tonight, Andrey Arshavin takes a wild slash at the ball when in a promising position. From about eight yards out, left of the goal, he fires into the side-netting.
86 min: "Didn't see who went off!!" thunders Miles Laprell. "What's your job?? Stop talking rubbish and concentrate on the game."
88 min: I wish I could care about anything as much as Miles Laprell cares about who went off when Mikael Forssell came on. I've been informed it was Ramon Nunez and have amended the entry in question accordingly. Imagine being uptight enough to actually send an angry email, complaining in the strongest possible terms about the fact that they missed which Leeds United player went off in a football match when Mikael Forssell came on. Imagine if Miles Laprell could channel that rage into something worthwhile?
89 min: Mikael Forssell stings the palms of Wojciech Szczesny with a shot from about 10 yards. I'm pretty sure that's the first save Arsenal's goalkeeper has had to make tonight.
90 min: Andrey Arshavin gets booked for a lunge after Thierry Henry had failed to keep the ball in the corner.
90+3 min: Miles Laprell is back: "Calm yourself Mr Glendenning," he writes. "Nobody said it was a rage, just annoyance at incompetence." Rage or annoyance ... does it really matter? Either way, I didn't see who went off when Mikael Forssell came on and you were annoyed by that. Which of us do you think needs help more urgently?
Peep! Peep! Peeeeep! The final whistle is blown and Arsenal advance to a fourth round tie against Aston Villa at the expense of Leeds. It was a dreadful game from start to finish, but was settled in fairytale style by Thierry Henry, who isn't slow to stay behind and milk the applause of all present as his team-mates head down the tunnel.
Post-match analysis: "I'm with Miles, get off your high horse and commentate," writes John Palmer, who is clearly new around here and labouring under the delusion that these minute-by-minute reports are compulsory.
Meanwhile on ESPN: The Emirates is practically empty, apart from the 5,000 Leeds fans being held back until their Arsenal counterparts leave. As I may have mentioned a couple of times, it is pitchside in front of these bored people with beer in their bellies and time to kill, where ESPN, in their infinite wisdom, thought it would be a good idea, to locate their team of analysists. Astonishing.