No carping – Howson fishing to net the big prize again

As a keen angler, Jonny Howson is well schooled in trying to land the big prize.

The day he caught a 14lb carp with his grandad at a lake near York, for instance, remains one of the Leeds United captain's most treasured memories, along with the never-to-be-forgotten afternoon of a year ago when it was his 40-yard pass that set up the goal which knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup.

In north London today, however, the 22-year-old will be looking to hook an arguably even bigger fish when United take on an Arsenal side who, even when resting many of their stars, routinely smash Football League opposition to smithereens in the Cups.

Repeating last season's heroics in the world's oldest knockout competition will, as Howson acknowledges, be a tall order against a team looking increasingly well placed to end their near six-year wait for a trophy.

But that does not mean the Leeds players will be overawed when they run out today at the Emirates Stadium.

"We have to remember that it is 11 v 11 and that anyone can beat anyone," says the Morley-born midfielder with eight goals to his name already this season. "If we all give a good account of ourselves then we can win. We knocked Manchester United out and pushed Spurs all the way last season, so there is no reason why we can't do the same again.

"We have some players who could perform in the Premier League. It is where we are striving to get to. We won't show them too much respect, we will try and get close to them and stop them playing.

"It will be difficult, of course, but you have to look forward to these sorts of challenges. You can't be overawed.

"Last season, we knew we could go to Manchester United and put in a performance and look what happened there. It would be great to do the same at Arsenal."

Howson, in his fifth season as a first-team player at Elland Road, already boasts more than 180 appearances for his home-town club. He has sported the captain's armband, a responsibility he was first given as a teenager by Gary McAllister, for much of this campaign due to Richard Naylor's injury and been an integral part of Leeds emerging as genuine promotion contenders.

Deserved praise has been lavished on the midfielder as a result, leading to a truly surreal moment for his grandad, Geoff Howson.

United's captain said: "My grandad has watched Leeds for years, right since that great team of the Sixties and Seventies. He once said how strange it was to hear Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer, two players he had watched so often, saying nice things about his grandson.

"I think it was on the radio and he said it made him very proud, which was nice. My family have all been very supportive, including my other grandad.

"He is a bit of a glory supporter and was a Nottingham Forest fan from the time when they were good. Then, I went down there with him to watch a game that Leeds won 2-0 and that was when he decided to support Manchester United."

Beating the team supported by his grandad on his mother's side last season could work either way for Leeds in the capital today.

It will, of course, mean they make the trip knowing that victory over a Premier League giant is not impossible. The flipside, however, is that Arsenal will not be taking the visitors from the Championship lightly.

Howson said: "Playing Premier League sides is a different challenge. They keep the ball better and are more clinical in front of goal. Everyone watches Arsenal with admiration. They play the right way, the way the game of football should be played.

"Their passing and movement is, it is just my opinion, how the game should be played. They have so many good players but if I had to pick one (favourite) it would be Cesc Fabregas.

"I would prefer for him to play. The main reason for wanting a tie like this is to test ourselves against the best, see how we stand up at this level.

"Before the game at Manchester United last year, I am not too sure if we did genuinely believe we could win. We thought we would give a good account of ourselves but maybe not that we would win.

"The biggest memory I have of Old Trafford is, of course, the goal. The emotion and the joy of that moment was unbelievable. But I also remember going out for the warm-up and hearing all the Leeds fans.

"There was such an atmosphere before we had even kicked off that it gave us all a lift. There will be a similar number at Arsenal (8,500 fans are making the trip south) and I am expecting the fans to be just as loud.

"That and the win at Old Trafford could help us against Arsenal because we know we can beat a top four team in the third round of the FA Cup.

"If we could beat Arsenal, as a player it would match that win at Old Trafford. As a fan, though, I have to say beating Manchester United was that bit more satisfying due to the rivalry."

Whether United can repeat the success of a year ago remains to be seen, but Howson is in no doubt as to the pride he will feel when leading the side out in front of 60,000 fans shortly before the 12.45pm kick-off.

He said: "Just being captain is a nice achievement but to lead the lads out alongside, hopefully, one of the best players in Fabregas will be a proud moment. Regardless of the result, that won't change."

As for the challenge of taking on the Gunners today, Howson seeks inspiration from both football and his other major sporting passion.

He said: "I have been into fishing since I was a kid. At school, my cousin went one Friday night and I went along and – excuse the pun – I was hooked.

"My biggest catch so far is a 14lb carp, which I landed with my grandad a couple of years ago at Grafton Mere. But that carp would be nothing compared to beating Arsenal."