How does one go about explaining what happened in that game. From a purely entertainment point of view, we got what we paid for and more. From a deeper team analysis, we did escape from what could have been a very embarrassing defeat. From a medical point of view, each one of us who witness that game, should go for a check-up and ascertain if our hearts are able to take anything more.
Who says that the Capital One Cup represents no value. The one who will be the most delighted is the Football League administrators. As for Arsene Wenger, there’s a mixture of anger and proud. Anger at the way we started the game and the “Norwich mentality” engulfing the team turning to proud as we went on to turn the game around, not without the part creeping back into our game though. From 4-0 down to winning the game 7-5, it was the case of self destruct to the sublime.
As expected, Wenger started with a mixture of youth and experience with Serge Gnabry being handed his first start and there was even a place for Marouane Chamakh in the striking position. I made myself clear on the latter in the preview yesterday and for this one game, I do apologise to him. I believed we started the game well but got the wind knocked out of our sails when Jason Roberts put Reading ahead. Laurent Koscielny lost his man inside the penalty box but the way the cross was allowed to come in must also be looked at. Koscielny then went on to increase Reading’s lead, slicing a clearance into his own net.
Damien Martinez had little to do against Coventry in the previous round but was called upon more in this game. Perhaps he got a little intimidated playing in an away ground as he was a bundle of nerves. What looked like a fairly easy catch, turned out to be a hasty punched clearance that somehow ended up in his own goal. We’ve seen Lukasz Fabianski done that before. However, credit to the big Argentinian, he recovered from that and looked stronger as the game went on. A couple of good one-on-one saves at the end of the game as well as in extra time, kept us in the game.
When Noel Hunt headed in the fourth goal, a sense of disbelief and shock reverberated around the stadium. Not just from travelling Arsenal fans but probably the home fans as well. No one could quite believe what was happening. Here we are, being sloppy in possession and lackadaisical in defending. To my money, there was a sense that the players thought to themselves that Reading are nothing and even if we gift them possession, they wouldn’t be able to hurt us. They found out it was wrong in the worst possible manner.
To get back into the game, we needed to get reduce the gap before half time. Best if we can half it but it was imperative that we get at least one. One that could raise the spirits in our team and plant some seeds of doubts into the Reading side brimming with confidence. Andrey Arshavin popped up with the perfect pass that sent Theo Walcott through and the Englishman once again displayed his new found composure in front of goal. 4-1 going into half time and still plenty to do.
We came out firing in the second half but after 15 minutes of not able to further breach Reading’s goal, reinforcements were needed. That came in the shape of Thomas Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud. The ineffective Emmanuel Frimpong and Gnabry were withdrawn. If you ask me, it looked like 4-4-2 then. The impact was immediate. For once, we switched the corner kick takers from Arshavin to Walcott and started to look more threatening from set pieces. How Giroud managed to get so much power into that header, I would never know but at least it gave us hope.
Toiled we did for 25 more minutes and as the clocks approach the 90th minute mark, even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans would be ready to exit the competition. That’s before karma came back and gave us a little help. There are times in the past when we didn’t get enough injury time. It was almost like the referee decided to give us back those minutes, all at once. First, Laurent Koscielny popped up with the 3rd goal, another header and somewhat redeeming himself for that own goal. Then in the injury time of the injury time, Chamakh cushioned a pass for Walcott to put the ball in. It looked like a Reading player handled the ball before clearing it after the ball had crossed the line. However, Carl Jenkinson made sure with the rebound. Unlucky for Walcott but good for us nonetheless.
At this point, it can only be one winner. We were riding on the wave of that last minute equaliser while Reading were crestfallen. Chamakh then scored from outside the box early in extra time to put us ahead for the first time in the game. Yes, you read that right. It was from outside the box. The Moroccan was involved in the build up and slammed the ball home right into the bottom corner which gave Adam Federici no chance. I was thinking at that time that it’s all over, no way would we allow Reading back into the game again.
But I was wrong. Pavel Pogrebnyak headed in the equaliser for 5-5 when a deflected shot fell right onto his path. Captain, Johan Djourou’s positioning will be looked at and there will be a realisation that he was unaware of where the striker was. From that point, penalties must have played on the minds of both teams. Probably when Wenger and Steve Bould are discussing who to select to take penalties, Walcott struck again.
Right at the death once again. All 3 of his goals came past the normal time mark. Arshavin who let me remind you, remained on the field for the entire 120 minutes. Still, he was able to make a lung bursting run to set up Walcott for the goal. Yet, funnily enough it wasn’t the last goal of the night. Chamakh got in the act again, this time a delicate lob from outside the box (yes, that’s correct again) to put us 7-5 up and into the next round of the competition.
Further analysis will have to come tomorrow. I’m exhausted from writing that, just as we were all exhausted at the end of yesterday’s game. Defensively suspect in the first half but it was quite a comeback to win from 4-0 down. At least now, Newcastle won’t be the only one who are able to sing that song……..Onwards we go.