Arsenal came from 4 goals down to progress to the quarter-finals of the League Cup against Reading last night. The Gunners fielded a weakened side, with Damian Martinez taking his place in goal for the visitors for only the second time in his career. There was some experience in the side though, with Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh all starting the game and Olivier Giroud on the bench. Having said that, it was Chamakh’s first start since the 3rd round FA Cup tie against Leeds last season and all of them listed haven’t started much this year for one reason or another. You could say that Carl Jenkinson, Arsenal’s back-up right back was the most used player in the starting line-up, as he did an outstanding job covering for Bacary Sagna whilst he was injured.
Reading took the lead after just 11 minutes. Hal Robson-Kanu’s low cross was hammered in by Jason Roberts after some poor defending by Laurent Koscielny and Arsenal in general. Roberts of course was the man that scored the winner for Wigan in a League Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 2006, something that the Arsenal fans on my Twitter feed certainly haven’t forgotten about, including me who was there that night!.
The hosts then went 2-0 up with just under 20 minutes played in the game. Chris Gunter’s cross deflected off of Koscielny and past Martinez into the net.
The most ridiculous goal of the night was Reading’s third. Mikele Leigertwood took a decent shot from the edge of the area and Martinez tried to make a great save when he probably could have just caught the ball. Regardless of that, it was still an absolute howler from the keeper, who at that point was not having the best of nights.
The way Arsenal were playing you could sense more and more Reading goals coming. With Old Trafford just around the corner I had a horrible sense of deja vu, this game felt like we were watching the 6-1 loss at Old Trafford in 2001 or last year’s 8-2 thrashing all over again, and this was Reading. Even if it was a weakened side, I was dreading what Manchester United and in particular Robin Van Persie would do to us at the weekend!. Reading did find the fourth goal when Noel Hunt headed in from a Garath McCleary cross.
Arsenal were getting humiliated. Arsene Wenger had said at last week’s AGM that the League Cup wasn’t his priority and you felt as though Arsenal’s players felt that way too. Maybe it was the fact they were in the side for what he considered very low priority, I don’t know. I do know that it wouldn’t give me a lot of confidence going out there if I am in that squad. The least you expect from Arsenal is to show some fight and effort. The fans at the ground were fed up. Chants of “we want our Arsenal back” were clear for everyone to hear at the stadium and for those watching on television. Some cameras caught fans leaving before the half, but personally I would like to believe that they were heading to get some food / drink or to use the toilets. If the people caught did leave, then you can’t blame them for going, but you should stick with your team no matter what. I didn’t think about turning the television off at 4-0 because it was only half time. I’m not saying I saw what happened coming, but we’ve seen teams blow massive leads before, including Arsenal themselves.
Arsenal’s response to the fans was instant and it appeared to wake them up. Marouane Chamakh saw his shot saved by Federici after being played in by Francis Coquelin, Laurent Koscielny had a chance from a corner and Serge Gnabry had a shot blocked.
Arsenal were given a little hope just before the break when Andrei Arshavin’s delightful through ball put Theo Walcott in the clear to clip the ball over Adam Federici and reduce the deficit. Half time came and both sets of fans were shocked. Reading certainly weren’t expecting things to be that easy and Arsenal fans may not have anticipated this one being an easy cup tie, but I’m sure they didn’t believe they would be losing it 4-1 at the half.
Arsenal started the second half slowly once more. A foul on Martinez prevented Reading from increasing their lead and Roberts continued to cause Koscielny problems. As well as this, Liegertwood could have had a second, but fired over the bar.
After the early warning signs, Arsenal got better. Theo Walcott hit the sidenetting from a tight angle having been played in by Arshavin once again. Chamakh’s biggest impact on the game at that point was appealing for a penalty after he felt Gunter handled the ball. He got booked for his appeals. Honestly, I was thinking that it was the most I’ve seen him run since about November 2010, so in 2 years!. He ran over to state his claim to the linesman and then the ref, who handed him the booking.
Jenkinson then crossed for Walcott who nudged the ball just wide. Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud for Emmanuel Frimpong and swapped one promising German youngster for another when Thomas Eisfeld replaced Serge Gnabry in the 60th minute. The impact was instant. Giroud headed in Arsenal’s second at the near post from Walcott’s corner in the 64th minute. All of a sudden, with the way the game was going, I felt even if Arsenal scored their next goal in the 80th minute, they’d have a chance of forcing extra-time.
Giroud had a big influence on the game. The Frenchman’s cross-shot was saved by Federici unconvincingly and Giroud’s header forced a good save out of him not long afterwards.
The clock kept ticking and Arsenal began to look as if the comeback wouldn’t happen. We went past my 80 minute mark, Wenger said in his post-game press conference that he thought they needed to score the third even earlier than that.
Arsenal’s fans kept with their side throughout. They were encouraging every attacking move and refused to believe they were out of it. In the 89th minute, Arsenal won a corner. The fans in the away end were right behind the goal Arsenal were attacking. At 4-2 down in the 89th minute they were encouraging their boys as if they were chasing the winner. Koscielny made up for his earlier own goal by heading in from the corner and now all eyes were on the fourth official and how much time was added on.
The answer was 4 minutes. Arsenal had 4 minutes to complete the comeback. Reading appeared to have beaten Arsenal, the four minutes were up. In the 93rd minute, Brian McDermott made a substitution to try and kill the clock, with Jason Roberts being replaced by Simon Church. I said there and then that the referee would give Arsenal that time back, so nobody should complain if Arsenal score beyond the four minutes added on.
The Gunners were in borrowed time in added time. In one last attack they pumped the ball forward and Walcott collected it. His shot went over the line despite Nicky Shorey’s best attempts to keep it out. The clearance then came out to Carl Jenkinson, who stabbed the ball in to make sure, but the goal was given to Walcott and Arsenal had completed a miraculous comeback to take the game to extra-time.
There was a moment to laugh at the full time whistle when both Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin took off their shirts and threw them into the crowd in belief that the game was over. I guess they thought it was going to a replay or something. They had to ask for their shirts back from the fans. I hope that the fans that gave them back were given them back at the end of the game.
The momentum going into extra-time was with Arsenal. They’d fought back from the dead to get themselves to extra-time. Reading had taken their biggest threat off the pitch believing the substitution would waste enough stoppage time to kill Arsenal off. I knew Pogrebnyak was a threat for Reading, but it was whether they’d be able to supply him.
With two minutes left in the first half of extra time, Marouane Chamakh ended his goal drought and fired Arsenal into the lead for the first time on the night. Chamakh’s last goal for Arsenal was in September 2011 in a 4-3 defeat against Blackburn. He looked happy to be on the scoresheet and looked interested in playing for the team for the first time in a very long time.
Walcott should have finished the game off early in the second half of extra time, but he sidefooted the ball into Federici’s arms. Reading would make Arsenal pay for that missed chance. With four minutes left in extra-time, Pavel Pogrebnyak levelled the scores once again and looked to have taken the tie to penalties.
This thriller wasn’t anywhere near over though. In the final minute of extra-time, Walcott sealed his hat-trick and scored what was surely the winning goal. The drama went on. With Reading chasing the game, a defensive error presented Marouane Chamakh with a chance to score his second of the evening. He lobbed the stranded Federici and finally put this game to bed. He only scored once last season. How does the saying go?. Like London buses, you wait ages for one, then two come along at the same time. 13 months to be precise. If London’s transport system was that slow, God help us all.
That was that. No fans that went to the game could argue that they didn’t get their money’s worth last night. I was thinking to myself at 4-0 that Reading isn’t too far away from where I live and I assume that this game did go down to silver members, so I would have certainly considered going to the game. At half time I was thinking how glad I am I was in the States as I had dodged a bullet it seemed. At full time in extra-time, I was wishing I was there with my fellow Arsenal fans. At the end of this one I was mentally exhausted. It was about as mentally exhausting watching the game as it was typing all this up.
Onto Old Trafford on Saturday, let’s hope it’s not another 8-2 like last year, otherwise I’ll be typing that one up for a long time too. However, if we defend like we did last night, I can certainly see United scoring a fair few against us!. I know that our defence will look completely different, but still, we’ll probably have Andre Santos playing left-back and we know that he can’t defend to save his life!.