Wow! When I wrote yesterday’s match preview I had no idea what an incredible evening I was in for. A rollercoaster of emotions for 120 crazy minutes ended in Arsenal coming back from 4-0 down to win the tie 7-5 and progress to the Quarter Finals. I said to a mate after the game that I didn’t know where to start writing this review. He said to start at the beginning (duh!), so I will.
I spoke yesterday about the need to make sure we avoid a blip after the two defeats last week. However we managed to find the self-destruct button and press it time and time again in a dreadful first half. For the first goal, Theo gave the ball away needlessly in midfield, the second was another Koscielny own goal, the third was a poor flap by the goalkeeper and the fourth was a cross not dealt with. 4-0 down and we were out of the competition. That familiar feeling of doom and gloom descended and the fans were chanting ‘We want our Arsenal back!’.
To have a chance of an improbable comeback, we needed a goal before half time. Thankfully we got it, Arshavin threading a perfect pass through to Walcott, who took a nice first touch and dinked it over the keeper to hand us a lifeline. Many will call that the turning point of the game. For me however, it was the introduction of Giroud midway through the second half. A few minutes after coming on, he brilliantly guided a header from a corner into the goal. His fighting spirit and extra bit of quality changed the dynamics of the game in our favour heavily, and we started to dominate. At 4-2 with 25 minutes to go, the comeback seemed more possible, but we all wanted that third goal as soon as possible. In the 89th minute it was still 4-2 and with so little time left, you felt that game was beyond us. Koscielny made amends with his own goal earlier by scoring a tidy header from a corner, and we went into 4 minutes of added time needing another goal to take the game to extra time.
Reading time-wasted most of the 4 minutes, making a substitution, holding the ball in the corners. My friends and I were making our way down the stairs, conceding defeat. It was so typical of Arsenal to bring it back to 4-3 just to tease us. As we were approaching the exit, 5 minutes into stoppage time, a ball was lofted into the box. Chamakh headed it down to Walcott who was suddenly one on one with the goalkeeper. The miracle goal, as it was later referred to by the manager, happened. Walcott struck the ball into the far corner, Chris Gunter on the line handballed it, it rolled over the line, and Gunter kicked it out. At this point we all believed it was a goal. Luckily Carl Jenkinson was there to smash it home and ensure there would be no controversy. At this point, the fans erupted, the place went absolutely mental, and we must have set the world record for the biggest ever mosh pit. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, we had done it, come back from 4-0 down to nick an equaliser in ‘Fergie time’.
We had to make our way back to our seats for another 30 minutes of this madness. Coquelin and Giroud thought it meant a replay, throwing their shirts into the crowd. The look on Giroud’s face when he was told there was another 30 minutes coming was priceless. Having come back from 4-0 down, the psychological edge had shifted entirely over to us. Reading were shattered, emotionally and physically, and our young legs seemed more likely to prevail. Late in the first half of extra time Marouane Chamakh completed a fantastic move with a tidy finish. Chamakh flicked it through to Arshavin, who played a 1-2 with Giroud before laying it into the path of Chamakh who smashed it home at the near post. 5-4 to the Arsenal and the first time we’d had a lead in the game.
It felt like it was all over at this point, but with the way the game had gone we weren’t surprised to see even more drama. 5 minutes before the end Pogrebnyak equalised for Reading and we were bracing ourselves for penalties. 120 minutes were up and two minutes’ stoppage time would be added. Koscielny started a move, playing the ball out to the left and busting a gut to get into the box. The ball ended up out wide with Arshavin, who drove his run into the box and shot into the far corner. The ball was cleared off the line but Theo was on hand to hammer it home. That world record mosh pit was reaffirmed, delirium on the faces of every single one of us. If that didn’t put the nail in the coffin (and this coffin required a few nails), Chamakh finished it a few moments later, running on to a clearance and beautifully lobbing the goalkeeper from 30 yards. Game over.
I have been to some amazing games and my favourites will always be knocking out Milan at the San Siro and beating Barca at the Emirates, but as a football match, this is the greatest by a long way. The neutral must have loved every minute of it, Arsenal and Reading fans will have suffered highs and lows, and the League Cup had just had its most historic game of all time. We left the ground scratching our heads. What just happened? It’s one of those games where, before the match, you want a relaxed 3-0 victory. Afterwards you are happy for things to have gone the way they did.
A few individual performances stood out for me. I think every player had a bad first half, but for the rest of the game I thought Arshavin had a magnificent game. He is a risk-taker, we know this by now. The result is things he tries often do not work out. But he tries and tries, and drives forward with every opportunity. He felt more and more dangerous the longer the game went on and for me the winning 6-5 goal belongs to him, even though Walcott put it in eventually. Olivier Grioud changed the game. He came on and added stability going forward that we were lacking. He was back defending, and fighting at the front. His header was world class and he is doing everything right to become a legend at the club. Marouane Chamakh had a good game for me. He was chasing down balls in their half, he won most of his aerial duels, and both his goals were finished beautifully.
The man of the match award has got to go to Walcott. Three goals, three assists says it all. His first goal was a delightful finish, his second took the game to extra time and his third won it for us. Give the man his contract, he’s our top goalscorer this season and has made less than a handful of starts. Someone pointed out an interesting stat. He must be the first person to have scored a hattrick with all three goals coming in different stoppages (45+2, 90+6, 120+1). That alone shows you how much of a crazy game this was.
A lot of people on the radio after were moaning about the defensive display. It was disastrous in the first half, yes. But I’m not going to dwell on that. This was one of the greatest games in Arsenal and League Cup history. Let’s enjoy it for a few days before worrying about the game at the weekend.
One final point I’d like to make is Sky were showing people leaving, claiming they’d had enough at 4-0 and were on their way home. I’m sure one or two did leave but most people were beating the crowds to get a half time pint in. One guy who was shown on Sky even tweeted himself at the game during extra time. How do Sky know where people are going merely by showing someone walking down a flight of stairs? Anyway, from what I’ve read the away fans got all the credit they deserved.
It was a night to savour. Strange, weird, brilliant. I think I’m going to have to watch the highlights again for the 5th time to try and figure it all out.