GJANNI ALIOSKI insists the last thing that Leeds United will be interested in is star-spotting in this evening’s mouth-watering televised FA Cup third-round tie at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Leeds take a break from the key business of a Championship promotion push to visit the Gunners, who have lifted the Cup on 13 occasions, and the Macedonian says that the visitors will not be in awe of their surroundings or intimidated by the famous names on the back of the home jerseys.
When questioned about the prospect of facing a side who had beaten Manchester United last time out, Alioski downplayed any sense of Leeds feeling intimidated by stating that the Whites could beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at the moment.
The impression was that Alioski’s statement was not wholly in jest either.
On the challenge facing Leeds, who will be backed by a huge travelling contingent of 8,000 fans this evening, Alioski said: “Of course even I see the result against Manchester United, but this Manchester United team from this year, even we can beat them. But we do not need to watch what Arsenal do in the league or where they are.
“They had not a good period where they lost lots of games, but it’s not important.
This Manchester United team from this year, even we can beat them.Gjanni Alioski
“This is the cup, it is different, it is not the same like in the league and in the cup there can always be something of a surprise.
“It’s Arsenal, everybody knows it is a big club, but it is not a case of thinking, ‘wow it is Arsenal, wow we are going to play against them’ because we are also a good team and we need to show it really.
“Now when you arrive in a level you do not have this feeling any more of, ‘wow, you are going to play against us and who are these players?’
“Of course they have played for Real Madrid and teams like this and there is big respect for those players, but I think we need to go there with a lot of confidence and to play the game that we do we always – not be scared to go there because it is Arsenal.”
Leeds are aiming to become the second Championship side to eliminate Arsenal from the FA Cup at this stage of the competition in three seasons, with Nottingham Forest beating the Gunners 4-2 at the City Ground back in January 2018.
It will also represent the sort of occasion that Marcelo Bielsa’s side will be striving to sample on a regular basis next season, although Alioski is adamant that Leeds’s stature in the game ensured that every encounter they face is a big one, by definition.
He added: “Maybe it is nice because it is a nice stadium.
“Of course, Arsenal is a big club, but I think it is not so special to think to go there because it is Arsenal because maybe if it is Leeds in the Premier League it is also a big club so it is not a big difference.
“The difference is they are in the Premier League and we are in the Championship. It is nice to go there and show them who is Leeds.”
Tonight certainly promises to be a special occasion for two Leeds players in French goalkeeper Illan Meslier and utility player Robbie Gotts, with Bielsa confirming that both will be handed debuts in place of Kiko Casilla and Stuart Dallas.
Gaetano Berardi and Barry Douglas will also start, with Liam Cooper and Helder Costa rested.
Bielsa said: “Gotts is a player that deserves to play. And Meslier has qualities that allow him to take responsibility in a massive match like this one.
“Meslier is a ’keeper that has experience and Gotts is in his best moment in all our processes.
“And the most important (thing) is that he has worked a lot to have this opportunity. But it is just one first step in the beginning of his career. Both do not have to prove anything to us.”
On the tie, Bielsa added: “It is a big challenge. The stadium they play, the quantity of people that go to the stadium, how many supporters they have around the world, the manager, the previous managers, all these facts describe the power of the club.”
Tonight will also be notable for being the first occasion in Leeds’s history that they have played a match with VAR in operation.
Last six games: Arsenal DLDDLW; Leeds WDLDWD.
Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).
Last time: Arsenal 1 Leeds 0, January 9, 2012; FA Cup.