So, last night I played football, a game which kicked off at 9.15pm (routine 2-0 win, in case you’re interested). That meant I could only watch the first half. And when I left the house at half-time, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at what I’d just seen.
A late Theo Walcott goal gave us some faint hope, but as I left I sent a text to a friend at the match, which read like this:
As we were warming up one of the lads on the team (an Arsenal fan), says “It’s 4-2!”. Not a surprise we’d gotten another goal but surely the gap was too much – not to mention the way we were defending … surely we’d concede as we pushed on. At half-time in our game he checked his phone. “4-4!”. Holy shit. We played the second half, shook hands with the opposition, he checked again. It took a while. “5-5, and we were 5-4 up!”.
Must be going to penalties, I thought. As we’re walking off the pitch towards the car park, someone says “6-5 Arsenal!”, and by the time I’d gotten to my car and checked my phone it was 7-5. And as the friend I sent the text to laughed at me afterwards, he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in my life.”
Tom was on liveblog duty last night, so I’ll hand over to him to talk about what happened, interspersed with some of the liveblog updates.
If you ever wanted to describe this Arsenal team to anyone, you’d not bother, and just get them to watch last night’s game from beginning to topsy-turvy end. It was the ultimate game of two halves, with Reading completely battering us in the first period, and then us completing a turnaround in deep in stoppage time, before taking it in extra time. I’ve slept on it, dreamed about it (seriously), and I can’t make any kind of sense of it.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the first half was the worst I can remember seeing Arsenal play. Fears that we might lose by a worse scoreline than we did in last season’s fixture at Old Trafford were quite reasonable, with Reading going 4-0 up in the first 37 minutes.
They started the game as brightly as we didn’t. Despite making 11 changes to the side that beat QPR, we had plenty of quality in the side, with Walcott, Koscielny, Arshavin, Djourou, and Jenkinson all starting. As I said on liveblog though, they looked like they’d never met, and Reading tore us apart again and again.
The first came in the 12th minute, after a fairly simple move saw a low cross swept in by Roberts at the far post after Koscielny lost his man, leaving Martinez with no chance. Six minutes later, a low Reading cross from the right hand side was powered in, Koscielny stuck out a leg to block it, but only succeeded in putting it in at the near post. If a striker had done that, it’d have looked a really sharp finish – if they’d done it at the right end, of course.
Then Martinez decided that anything the defenders in front of him could do badly, he’d at least try and match, trying a spectacular flying save from a shot from the edge of the box, but only managing to palm it into his own net. At least he had the excuse of being a young man, and young goalkeepers will have moments like that – even if it does feel like young goalkeepers at Arsenal are more likely to do it more often than others. International defenders like Koscielny had no such excuse.
23 – Fucking hell, we’re really playing like a side that was out on the lash until 5am and doesn’t remember any of the people we were boozing with. Awful
A simple move, cross from the right, and header by Noel Hunt made it 4-0, and Arsenal were the ones looking like a team comprised of Hunts. It was really, really bad, and Sky were cutting to footage of Tony Adams in the crowd, looking glum, and then to Steve Bould, sitting on the bench looking like he couldn’t believe it. Unsprisingly, Arsene looked like thunder, but the question wasn’t so much what he’d do to change it, but how many Reading would score.
42 – SHOT ON TARGET FROM CHAMAKH ALERT!
Saved though, obviously.
Then, in one of the most significant moments of the entire fixture, Theo Walcott raced onto a through ball and lifted the ball over the keeper for a great finish to make it 4-1. Like many others, I joked on liveblog that the comeback was on. It really was a joke – I had no sense we could remotely get back into the game.
With no changes at half time (I mean, why would you, right?), the second half started exactly like the first, with Reading continuing to batter us and having several chances to get their fifth. While you already thought it was over, had they taken even one of those chances it would’ve been even harder to believe what followed. Yet they didn’t, and after they missed a relatively easy header, we started to get a foothold in the game. While still not looking dangerous, passes started making their mark, and we had much, much more of the ball, and finally started making chances.
57 – Um. If we’d taken our chances this half, we’d be level.
Of course, had Reading taken theirs, we’d be dead and buried.
On the hour mark, the manager replaced Frimpong and Gnabry with Eisfeld and Giroud. It was something of an inspired move, and with Walcott looking ever more lively, we started looking genuinely dangerous, before a Walcott corner was expertly put away by the France international. Suddenly it was 4-2, we were looking dangerous, and you really did feel there was a possibility we might be able to do something.
69 – I’ve turned the TV volume down, but I’m hearing from Twitter that the noise from the Arsenal fans is immense. If anyone’s going to win it for us…
Although we still looked like our League Cup side generally does – youthful and not as fluent as the senior side (or at least not as fluent as we’d like the senior side to be!) – Reading looked tired, and increasingly like they were trying to sit on their lead, a dangerous proposition for a Reading side against any Arsenal team, you have to say.
It got to 80 minutes, and you started to feel the sinking feeling of being on the wrong side of the rollercoaster again. Time was running out, Reading seemed to be coping okay, and the chances we’d missed earlier in the half – plus the whole debacle that was our defending in the first period – felt like they were going to be costly. The clock was ticking, but in the very last minute of normal time, Koscielny made it 4-3.
90+0 – AAARRRRRHGHHGHHH. KOSCIELNY
They couldn’t, could they? Yes, yes they could. In the 95th minute, Walcott’s shot just about made it over the line, before Jenkinson slammed it home to make sure. 4-4 and the scarcely believable comeback was complete.
90+7 – Christ, is this what it felt to be Newcastle?
Hilariously, Giroud, and Coq (reasonably solid throughout), threw their shirts into the crowd at the end, presumably thinking there’d be a replay – or maybe they’d just lost count of the goals and thought we’d won.
Coming so late in stoppage time, the equaliser deflated Reading to the point you felt it was going to be impossible for them, and sure enough they didn’t really recover. First, Marouane Chamakh finally got the memo reminding him this was one of his chances to secure a move away from the club, and after a lovely move he slammed it home from 20-odd yards. Yes, that’s right, Chamakh – the same Chamakh that hadn’t scored since the dawn of time. It was a great finish too, and belied how little he’s played over the past 18 months.
103 – ARRRHHGHHGHGHGG – IT’S ONLY FUCKING CHAMAKH
Inevitably Reading got another to level the scores at 5-5, and briefly threatened to get back into it, but the momentum was all with Arsenal, and we went up the other end and scored two more, Walcott slammed home his third to make it 5-6 and then Chamakh – overflowing with confidence – chipping the goalie from 30 yards, to bring utter delirium to the magnificent away support.
120+3 – AARRRRRRGHGHGHGHGH
This time they really could throw their shirts into the crowd – it’s a shame there wasn’t one for every single Arsenal fan there. They all deserved one.
I don’t really have much to add, except to say that I genuinely felt bad for Reading and their manager, Brian McDermott. They were collateral damage of this crazy Arsenal side, yet took their defeat with dignity, and none of the stadium smashing and steward injuring that accompanies defeats of other teams that play in blue and white. Arsene Wenger looked drawn and exhausted at the end, seemingly as unable to believe what he’d seen as the rest of us, and while Jose Mourinho might’ve described our similarly topsy turvy 5-4 against Spurs as a hockey score a few years ago, Arsene went one better and admitted the score looked like we’d taken the first set in a tennis match.
So, we go into the quarter finals of a competition the media accuse us of not taking seriously for the tenth year running (stat goes to @optajoe), and while it’s clearly the lowest of our priorities, I’m glad we’re still in it. And while last night’s first half was deeply troubling, as unpleasant as the experience was and shouldn’t be forgotten in the elation of the win – the second half is why we all love this game. Utterly unbelievable.
Next stop Old Trafford.
What more can I add to that? A quite remarkable night of football and a game that even on delayed viewing this morning made back of neck hairs stick up.
We don’t half do things the hard way but that’s the Arsenal for you. Till tomorrow.