Arsenal staged one of the most amazing comebacks in their history to progress to the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup at the expense of Reading.
Four goals down after 37 minutes, Arsene Wenger’s side looked dead and buried before goals from Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and an injury-time equaliser from Carl Jenkinson (or was it Walcott?) dragged the game to extra-time. Maraoune Chamakh (yes really) put us into the lead, Pavel Pogrebnyak equalised before Walcott and Chamakh scored twice after the 120 minute mark to seal a 7-5 win.
This is not a game which words can really do justice to. For want of a better one, it was mental.
Let’s start from the beginning…
As expected Arsene fielded a team featuring both youth and experience. 17-year-old Serge Gnabry was given a start in midfield alongside Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, while up front Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott and the forgotten Marouane Chamakh led the line. At the back Martinez had a second start in goal, while Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny were flanked by Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel in a relatively experienced defence.
Reading certainly started the better of the two sides and nearly opened the scoring in the third minute when Morrison’s header from a corner hit the post and rebounded clear off the head of keeper Martinez. The Argentine was forced into action five minutes later making a smart close range stop from Jay Tabb.
Despite some smart play by Arshavin, Arsenal weren’t really at the races in the first 15 minutes and it wasn’t much of a surprise that Jason Roberts gave the home side the lead. Jenkinson was caught way out of position, Coquelin missed a challenge, Djourou had no choice but to cover right and in doing so left the former Wigan man free to make the most of a decent cross. He duly crashed home a volley from five yards with a minimum of fuss.
The lead was doubled seven minutes later. Miquel was nutmegged in his left back position, a Reading runner made it to the touchline and his low cross was turned into his own net by Koscielny.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse it did. After more sloppy play in our own half Mikele Leigertwood was allowed to progress to the edge of the box where he despatched a half decent shot. It should have been dealt with, but rather than turn the ball around the post Martinez conceived to palm it into his own net.
3-0 down after 20 minutes and player heads both young and old were down. Off the pitch the away fans continued to sing their hearts out in support in a quite tremendous show of solidarity.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to spur the players onto greater things. Another ball was lost in the middle of the park, swiftly worked to the right and this time Noel Hunt crashed home a decent header off the post. Six attempts by the Royals had yielded four goals and the away support, quite understandably, changed tact.
Just before half-time Chamakh, Gnabry, Frimpong and Jenkinson managed efforts at (if not on) goal, before Walcott, fed by Arshavin, gave the Gunners the tiniest glimmer of hope with a finely taken striker’s finish seconds before the referee’s whistle. The cynic in me couldn’t help thinking it was taken with all the ‘fuck it’ nonchalance of a man who knows he’ll be leaving the club sooner rather than later.
Within two minutes of the second half Reading could have added to their lead three times over. A header was saved, they were denied a definite penalty and Miquel almost put into his own net. It was unforgivably suicidal play by Arsenal epitomised by Koscielny’s consistently limp submission to Jason Roberts’ physicality.
A break led by Arshavin ended with Walcott hitting the post, Gnabry flashed a shot wide, Chamakh was booked appealing for a dead-cert penalty and then Walcott came close again as we started to show a bit of fighting spirit.
Thomas Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud entered the fray in place of Frimpong and Gnabry as Wenger threw further caution to the wind. The substitution paid immediate dividends as the Frenchman scored a fantastic header from a Walcott corner. 4-2 with 25 minutes to go. Surely we couldn’t do it?
Giroud really made a difference in the final third. Unlike Chamakh he competed for headers from the long ball and wasn’t scared to shoot from outside the box; one drive with 17 minutes left stung the palms of Federici before a header very nearly crept in at the Australian’s near post.
Eisfeld also looked very perky. The young German’s willingness to run with the ball kept pushing the home side onto the back post, while his passing was both direct and incisive.
In the final minute of normal time another corner produced a third goal. Laurent Koscielny, wiping his slate clean after the own goal, scoring with a fine header. Unbelievable stuff.
More decent work by Walcott nearly produced the most unexpected of equalisers in injury-time, before somehow in the fifth minute of injury-time (only four had been shown) Walcott squirmed another shot goalwards. It went over the line, was cleared, only for Jenkinson to smash home and save the linesman from his ridiculous dilly-dallying. 4 fucking 4. I’m not sure who’ll they’ll give the goal to, but who would begrudge the right back getting his first ever goal for his boyhood club in such dramatic circumstances?
The goal was the last kick of the game…well normal time anyway. Giroud and Coquelin, seemingly having lost count of the score, threw their shirts into the crowd in celebration. They were quickly reminded of the 30 minutes of extra-time that beckoned!
Momentum is a strange thing in football. Lose it and it’s very hard to get back. Reading had lost it and we could smell blood. We dominated the first ten minutes of extra-time before brilliant interplay by Giroud and Arshavin made space for Marouane Chamakh and of all people the Moroccan lashed home from outside the box. It was his first goal in 13 months!
Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal we couldn’t just see out the game. After Walcott missed a chance to extend the lead, Koscielny was called upon to make a desperate last ditch challenge to ensure we still had one. The Frenchman’s evening had all the plot twists of a John Grisham thriller and that’s not a necessarily a good thing.
Eventually, with five minutes left, Reading’s persistence paid off. A deflected shot saw fell to Russian sub Pavel Pogrebnyak who headed past Martinez from on the line to again draw the teams level.
You thought it might be penalties after that, but there was still time for one final twist. Koscielny won the ball, Arshavin raced up the other end of the pitch and Walcott smashed home with composure. It felt like a winner, but there was still time for a further gloss. As Reading desperately committed men forward Chamakh in extra time of extra-time was left free to perfectly lob home a seventh. He looked more surprised than anybody.
Eventually the referee found his whistle and gave it a blow. 7-5 to the Arsenal. Job done. Easy!
I don’t think we’ll ever see another game like it. I’m not sure I want to…