Reading 5 Arsenal 7: Entertaining, Enthralling, Epic
After getting back to winning ways against QPR, Arsene Wenger had the distraction of the Capital One cup in the form of Reading, before the crunch encounter against Arsenal’s eternal rivals, Manchester United. The gaffer named an 18-man squad that was going to play at the Madejski Stadium and as expected, there was a perfect blend of youthful exuberance and a few experienced old hags.
Young Argentine shot stopper Damian Martinez had another run-out in goal but he had a pretty experienced defensive line in the form of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou in the heart of the defense, while Ignasi Miquel and the demoted Carl Jenkinson. Francis Coquelin and the Denchster, Emmanuel Frimpong manned the midfield holding roles with Andrey Arshavin playing in the hole behind the center forward.
Gervinho Olivier Giroud Lukas Podolski Marouane Chamakh…yes, Marouane Chamakh spearheaded the attack with the exciting Serge Gnabry and the pacy Theo “Sign da Ting” Walcott providing support down the flanks. For those that don’t know, the last time Chamakh started a game was way back in January, in the 1 – 0 victory over Leeds United, where King Thierry Henry capped his fairytale comeback with a va va voom finish.
From a neutral perspective, I didn’t expect the team to blend immediately as most of them haven’t played alongside each other for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t expect Arsenal to put up a very malodorous show in the first half.
Right from the onset, Nicky Shorey swung in a corner that was headed goalwards by Sean Morrison. With Lady Luck smiling down at Arsenal, the ball managed to hit the post, bounce off Martinez’s head before ricocheting away to safety. The warning signs were on glaring for Arsenal, at Reading grabbed the lead when Noel Hunt’s low drive was pummelled into the net by veteran striker, Jason Roberts, that had all the time in the world to pick his spot.
Shortly afterwards, it was an all too familiar feeling when Arsenal shot themselves in the foot yet again. Gareth McCleary fashioned a chance for Welsh fullback, Chris Gunter, and his low cross into the box was deflected in by Laurent Koscielny.
It is just me? Or does Koscielny have a penchant for scoring own goals. I know he’s French, like Pascal Cygan and Mikael Silvestre but the last time I checked, he wears the No. 6 jersey, instead of the No. 18 jersey that’s tantamount with own goals.
In rapid fashion, Arsenal was nursing a three-goal deficit when the Gunners failed to clear their lines properly, allowing an unmarked Leigertwood to shoot the ball with a goal-bound shot. Martinez’s response to the shot was equally pathetic, as he merely guided the ball into the net.
At 3 – 0, I was clearly shell-shocked, but a bad night became worse when Gunter, who was having the time of his life with the atrocious Ignasi Miquel, drilled in another cross that was headed home by Noel Hunt with some assistance from the woodwork. With all the defensive attributes and aerial prowess Koscielny and Djourou are renowned for, their collective performance in the first 38 minutes was a classic definition of the word – shite.
With Arsenal having it all to do, Chamakh, Koscielny and Gnabry all had efforts that weren’t good enough to offer the Gunners a glimmer of hope. Up stepped Theo Walcott, that waltzed through the middle courtesy of a brilliant assist from Arshavin before chipping his shot past Adam Federici in goal.
I don’t know what Wenger told his boys during the interval but it’s certainly the type of half time team talk you’ll give in Football Manager using an aggressive or assertive tone. You know, the usual, “Where’s the passion, lads?”, “Show me something else in the second half”…stuff like that.
Arsenal came out of their shells in the start of the second half as the Arshavin – Walcott connection almost reaped dividends yet again, but the side netting came to Reading’s rescue. Chamakh tried to make a claim for a penalty when Gunter was adjudged to have handled the ball but with the way referees have come under the spotlight, the man with the whistle, let sleeping dogs lie.
At the hour mark, Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld (debut, yaaaaaay!) for Gnabry and the Denchster which turned out to be a move worth its weight in gold. Within minutes of being on the pitch, Giroud got on the end of Walcott’s corner to reduce the deficit to two goals, offering his side a renewed sense of optimism.
Reading’s gaffer, Brian McDermott, made some tactical changes and his team matched the Gunners pound for pound as the minutes ticked away, much to the agony of Arsenal fans. Right at the death, Koscielny atoned for his embarrassing own goal with a powerful header and it’s worth noting that the way the Gunners ran with the ball to the center circle was faster than Usain Bolt’s world record.
Reading employed some time-wasting tactics and tweets like this saw the light of day,
Then this happened,
In a fashion not explainable to man, Theo Walcott stepped up a “hail Mary” strike (as Arsenal.com described it) to level the game at 4 – 4. Mali did it against Angola in a recent AFCON, Newcastle did it against us in the 2010/11 season and most recently, Sweden achieved the same feat against Germany in a World Cup qualifier.
While in sheer elation, Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts into the jubilant Arsenal fans before sheepishly having to request them back for extra time.
Reading looked like a side bereft of confidence after throwing away a handsome 4 – 0 lead (yeah, we Arsenal fans know that feeling) and Arsenal continued to stamp their authority on the game. Two minutes before the end of the first interval,
Walcott Giroud Chamakh, yes Chamakh, fired a shot from inside the six-yard box outside the box to give the Gunners a 5 – 4 lead.
Chamakh had a golden chance to make it six but he side-footed a tame effort to the goalie. Arsenal was made to rue that miss when Pavel Pogrebnyak nicked in an equalizer to change the scoreline of this epic encounter to 5 – 5.
Penalties beckoned but I wasn’t confident of Damian Martinez’s abilities so I said a quick prayer and hoped for another goal…or two. Behold, my prayers were answered in the best possible fashion as Walcott capped an exceptional game with a hat-trick that was no less than he deserved.
With Reading chasing the game for another scary equalizer (which they almost got), Chamakh put the icing on a well-baked cake as he chipped the hapless goalie to make it seven.
In all my years as an Arsenal fan, I haven’t seen a game that made me go through so many emotional phases like yesterday’s game against Reading. I started the game with arrogance (simple stroll in the park, I thought), but that was quickly changed to a state of surprise (1 – 0), perplexion, bewilderment (2 – 0) and shock (3 – 0) before getting heavy doses of frustration and despair (4 – 0).
I began the second half with doubt (4 – 1), but it was changed to hope (4 – 2). At 4 – 3, urgency became my watchword and when Walcott made it 4 – 4, my euphoria knew no bounds. 5 – 4 was somewhat orgasmic, but the equalizer was a bitter pill to swallow. After the final two goals that put the game beyond doubt, the only feeling I had was pride.
What’s not to love about Arsenal?
Arsene Wenger has stated that this victory was a miracle, but I’m here to tell the world that it was entertaining, enthralling and of course, epic.
For those Gooners that missed this game for reasons best known to Aliens scared to attack the Earth because Chuck Norris lives, here are the highlights of the 12-goal thriller.
And for those Gooners that watched the game, we both know that it’s worth a second view.
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