x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

After Barcelona, next up is Leyton Orient for Arsenal

Russell Slade's side planning nothing exotic against the Gunners, only to express their passing principles.

Stephen Dawson is challenged by Norwich City's David Fox during an earlier FA Cup round. The midfielder estimates as many as 70 of his family and friends will be at Brisbane Road today to see his side face Arsenal. Chris Radburn / PA
Stephen Dawson is challenged by Norwich City's David Fox during an earlier FA Cup round. The midfielder estimates as many as 70 of his family and friends will be at Brisbane Road today to see his side face Arsenal. Chris Radburn / PA

Russell Slade's side planning nothing exotic against the Gunners, only to express their passing principles.

The one-liners fly off Barry Hearn's quicksilvered tongue. "Arsenal are one of the best teams in the world, and there is no doubt at all that we are the best team in Leyton," Orient's chairman said of this afternoon's FA Cup match-up.

"Arsene Wenger, behind Russell Slade, the second-best manager in football," is Hearn's assessment of the two coaches.

And then he raised the incentive package for his in-form team, who are chasing a League One promotion place. "I told them if we made play-offs we're all going to [Las] Vegas for a party. Blimey, it's getting a bit close. If we beat Arsenal we're going to Vegas anyway. I'll throw the draw into that bonus scheme as well."

Only when Hearn calculates that the televised fifth-round game should bring in around £800,000 (Dh4.7 million) in additional revenue does the centre-back Ben Chorley beat the boxing (and darts and snooker) promoter to the punch. "We'll spend that in Vegas," said Chorley, once an FA Youth Cup winner with the team he is charged with stopping today.

Stephen "The Awesome" Dawson is a former Republic of Ireland Under 21 international who has flitted around England's lower divisions before becoming the centrepiece of Slade's summer overhaul at Orient. Dawson played for Mansfield Town during a season that ended with relegation out of the Football League, England's four professional levels, but, in common with his teammates, reckons "Facing the Arsenal is a bit different, isn't it?"

Family and friends clearly agree; Dawson plans to commandeer a good chunk of Brisbane Road's 9,000 or so seats, as well as the plastic pitch opposite its main stand.

"Everyone's coming over," Dawson said, grinning. "They'll have the caravans out there. In total about 60 or 70 will be here. I've paid for a few so I'll be on to Barry for a pay rise after the weekend."

Wages are some distance from Premier League level under Hearn, who said he usually loses between £600,000 to £1m a year fronting his local club. Few players receive more than £1,000 a week.

A free transfer in the summer, Dawson was kept away from better-placed admirers by the use of one of the flats Hearn had built in each corner of the stadium. "Hopefully, [after the match] we'll have everyone back somehow in the flat. I live in the corner flat and you can see the pitch up to the penalty spot. But all the tickets are paid for; I couldn't get away with them watching from the flat this time."

The football may be worth paying attention to. Following several seasons slaving their way out of relegation trouble, Slade has established Orient as one of League One's best sides.

They have highly rated forwards in Alex Revell and Jonathan Tehoue, while their goal is guarded by Jamie Jones, a 21-year-old Englishman who scouts believe Everton made a mistake in releasing.

A studied character who jokes about making "about 368 appearances" for Notts County reserves as he worked his way through college, Slade gained coaching qualifications in tennis, athletics and cricket and trained various youth teams.

He is proud of his team's play. "We split the two centre halves at the back, we try to roll the ball out from the back, and I think ProZone will tell you that we're the third-highest pass completion team in the League," Slade said. "We are a passing team, we like to play, we like to dominate the midfield if we can.

"We won't change that for Arsenal. I think to go in with something a little bit alien to us when we've been really comfortable in the way we play would be wrong. It will be about keeping discipline and not running around like headless chickens to try and deal with the situation."

sports@thenational.ae