Earlier this month, in this piece, I reflected on the recent fortunes of Leeds United and Arsenal in the FA Cup, the world’s oldest national football competition. Leeds (the team that I have followed since childhood) had not won a game in the competition since 2017. During that time Arsenal (the team that my wife and daughter support) had won the trophy twice. Going back to February 2013 Leeds had won just three games in nearly 10 years. Arsenal have won the competition four times during those years.
Last night Arsenal lost their Fourth Round tie at Manchester City. Leeds were playing at Accrington Stanley at lunch-time today, and this combination of fixtures made me wonder: when was the last time that Leeds were still in the competition after Arsenal were eliminated?
The answer was 2013, more recently than I expected, but only because the teams played their fixtures on different days. They both went out in the Fifth Round: Arsenal lost at home to Blackburn Rovers on 16 February 2013, Leeds lost at Manchester City the following day.
Leeds won today’s game 3-1. After the third Leeds goal, and before the usual defensive frailty that gave Accrington their late goal, I started looking into the club’s record before 2013 to answer the following question: when was the last time that Leeds progressed further in the FA Cup than Arsenal?
The answer to that one is 2000: it is 23 years since Arsenal were eliminated from the competition before Leeds. Arsenal lost on penalties to Leicester City after a Fourth Round replay, Leeds were knocked out by Aston Villa in the Fifth Round. That season the Third Round ties had been played earlier than usual, in December, so both teams were out of the competition before the end of January.
This year Leeds will still be in the competition in February, and this prompted me to look up the answer to one further question: when was the last time that Leeds were knocked out of the FA Cup after Arsenal, and in a different calendar month?
The answer is 1996. Arsenal lost to Sheffield United in a Third Round replay in January. Leeds survived until 20 March 1996, then lost at Liverpool in a Sixth Round replay.
This season’s rare run of form in the FA Cup means that Leeds boss Jesse Marsch (appointed nearly a year ago) has never lost a game in the competition. Nor has Erik ten Hag, Manchester United’s manager since last summer. Something has to give. We’ll probably be drawn against them in the next round. If so, we Leeds fans can take comfort from recent history for a change. When the teams last met in the FA Cup, in 2010, Leeds won 1-0. The last time we lost to Manchester United in this competition was February 1995, 28 years ago. That sounds like a long time. It feels like yesterday.