It is definitely hard to express what I have just witnessed. After going down 4-0, Arsenal pulled-off what is likely to be one of the best comebacks in football history after pegging back one goal in stoppage time of the first-half, leveling the tie at 4-4 with a goal at the very end of stoppage-time in the second-half and then going on to win the match 7-5 with two goals in the stoppage-time of extra-time.
Going into the match, Arsene named a strong side on paper, but it was immediately clear that the team was not at all a coherent unit and definitely looked lost for a large majority of the first-half. Reading, in contrast, were quick out of the blocks and made their intentions clear early on after grabbing a 3-0 lead only 20 minutes into the match.
Goals from Roberts and Leigertwood either side of yet another Laurent Koscielny own-goal gave the home-side a surprise three goal buffer with Hunt extending the lead to four in the 37th minute. Credit to Reading for bagging the goals, but it must be understood a game of this entertainment was only born out of extremely poor defending, particularly from Koscielny and young Martinez who were largely at fault for the first three goals.
Luckily for Arsenal, they managed to grab onto a life-line at the very end of the first-half with Arshavin releasing Theo Walcott through the middle. The Englishman produced a composed finish chipping over Federici. Heading into the second half, midfield looked much better after Thomas Eisfield was introduced on the hour mark along with Olivier Giroud. The move proved to be a good one with Giroud nodding home a corner a couple minutes after his introduction.
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Giroud would have another couple of chances, but failed to convert. Only until very late in the game did the drama unfold when Koscielny somewhat redeemed himself after turning in a header from a corner in the 89th minute and unbelievably Jenkinson smashed home from a cleared Walcott shot just before the final whistle.
With Arsenal on the front-foot, going into extra time the Gunners were clearly the favourites. They took the lead for the first time with Chamakh’s low drive from outside the area only to have that lead cancelled courtesy of more slack defending. However Walcott would prove to the hero after he smashed home the winner after Arshavin’s shot was cleared off the line. Chamakh made sure of the win when he latched onto a defensive error and beautifully lobbed the keeper right at the very end of the match. What a game!!!
on the game…
We went from disaster to, I must say at least at some stage, pride – because we at least came back in the second half with a decent performance. We had just hope, but it didn’t look like we would go through. At least in the second half, we got our disastrous first half out of the system. Then, once it was 4-4, I think it looked like we would be the winner of the game. Reading had given a lot, and [were] mentally of course down, and in extra time the maximum they could have got was a penalty shoot out. We looked quite comfortable in the second half. They [Reading] had a fantastic first half. I know what it is to be pulled back when you’re 4-0 up. It happened to me as well. They should take credit from that performance and not be too disappointed.
on if he thought the comeback was possible at 4-0 down…
Yes. At 4-1, I thought yes. In the second half we played 4-2-4, basically 4-1-5 because Eisfeld is an offensive midfielder. We created many chances and from then on, I always had hope we could come back. We had some free-kicks around the box [but] we couldn’t score. With 15 minutes to go, I thought that’s the moment to score the 4-3. We didn’t. Seven minutes to go, we had a great chance [to score]. We didn’t [take it] so I thought it will be short now. It’s strange to explain. At 4-0, you think you have won the game. At 4-1 you still think you have won the game. At 4-2, you suddenly realise that it’s not over – and then the panic kicks in and no matter how good a player you are, that goes through the team.
on how he felt when Reading went 4-0 up…
I didn’t feel great. I just thought ‘what can I do about that?’ I started to think about my half-time speech. It was not difficult to find an inspiration at half time, because there was enough there to talk about. Overall, I just felt sorry for our fans because at 2-0, they stayed behind the team. At 3-0, they stayed behind the team. At 4-0, they stayed behind the team. I would like to give them credit tonight.
on some fans leaving at 4-0…
Yes. I give them less credit. The big part of the fans stayed behind the team and I’m happy we paid them back in the second half.
on what he told the team at half time…
That is dressing room talk. Anyway it was difficult to be worse in the second half than in the first.
on if this is one of his greatest victories…
Maybe, yes. I don’t know. It is not one of our priorities but had we gone out – the way we could have gone out in the first half – that would not have been one of my proudest moments at the Club. I’m very happy that we responded the way we did in the second.
Jenkinson Koscielny Djourou (c) Miquel
Gnabry Arshavin Walcott
Damien Martinez | 3.5: You can’t really give any keeper a decent rating after conceding seven goals. Solely at fault for the third and beaten by Koscielny at the near post. Looked woeful dealing with aerial balls.
Carl Jenkinson | 5.5: Was beaten far too easily for Readings fourth goal, but thankfully improved over the course of the match. Unreal how he smashed home the equaliser virtually at the final whistle to make it 4-4.
Laurent Koscielny | 3.5: Extremely poor by the usually solid Frenchman. While he scored a goal, his primary job is defence and tonight he looked out of sorts. Completely lost Roberts for the first and turned into his own goal for the second. Definitely not staking a claim for a first-team stating spot after this performance.
Johan Djourou | 4.5: Captained the Gunners for the night and was unfortunately beaten in the air far too often. Improved in the second half.
Ignasi Miquel | 4.5: The young Spaniard struggled to cope with McCleary for much of the match. Looked uncomfortable playing out on the flank in defence.
Francis Coquelin | 6.0: Was definitely involved and proved to be full of running and willing to challenge for the ball. Was very tidy in midfield without being overly impressive.
Emmanuel Frimpong | 5.0: Tough outing for the youngster who is lacking match fitness. Struggled to get stuck in offensively but as always was a very good physical presence in midfield – was rightfully replaced by the more attacking Eisfeld after 60 minutes
Andrey Arshavin | 8.0: Overall a superb second half performance from the Russian. He showed his class with the well weighted through ball for Walcott just before halftime, and his menacing run towards the end of the match that teed up Theo for the winner.
Theo Walcott | 8.5: The Englishman produced a worthy hat trick performance, whether his ‘second’ was actually his or Jenkinson’s is still up for grabs, but the winger was full of venom and claimed two/three assists as well as two/three goals. Brilliant.
Marouane Chamakh | 7.5: The Moroccan finally got his first start of the season and finally produced the goods (in extra time). Two well taken goals helped the Gunners steer to victory, it will do his confidence a world of good.
Serge Gnabry | 6.0: The talented German starlet was bright and alert as he produced a couple of chances, however he failed to get a stranglehold of the match and was switched out for the centre forward Giroud after the hour mark for tactical reasons rather than his performance.
- Notable substitutions
Olivier Giroud | 8.0: The Frenchman made a massive impact when he came on, notched Arsenal’s third and was constantly threatening.