Famous last words. Words uttered as I headed into the kitchen to scrape the remains of my Papa Johns pizza into the bin. The very same bin that, at about 8.30 last night, Arsenal’s Capital One Cup ambitions had apparently been consigned to. I then went upstairs with Jo and continued to reacquaint myself with series one of The Wire- the charms of The Bunk, McNulty and co much more appealing than an Arsenal team who looked clueless and apathetic. For the record, Jo turned the football off as I found myself unable to switch it off. A bit like the Terminator not being able to “self terminate”.
So, I went upstairs- fuming- a brief flicker in my brain that maybe I should record the second half, y’know, just in case, was ignored. Surely this Arsenal team couldn’t recover 4 goals, could they? Well, you know the rest. By the time we had made the end of the episode, a combination of texts and the BBC’s Livetext coverage told me that Arsenal had indeed pulled the match from the fire. I remember looking at the time when I saw Koscielny’s goal had gone in and surmising that it was too little too late. Or, to quote from Fever Pitch, “They need two, so they score one just to get us all excited!” And yet. I wasn’t too surprised when I checked a couple of minutes later and saw that Carl Jenkinson had followed up a Theo Walcott shot cleared from behind the line and made sure. That goal has now been confirmed as Walcott’s- completing his hat-trick, but one wonders what would have happened had Jenkinson not rendered the clearance academic.
I know some of you are reading this and to quote now Bill Hicks, “every word is like a turd falling into your drink” because I walked away from the Arsenal. Let me just say this: it shouldn’t bother you whether I walked away or not because the bottom line is, I am the one who missed out. And the crazy nature of this game, Reading becoming the first English team to score five in a domestic cup competition and still lose, will never be repeated. I missed it. Nothing you can say to me will change that. A bit like how John Terry will know to his dying day that, despite lifting the European Cup, he had naff all to do with the performance that won it.
Not all of it, obviously. I watched the first half which saw an Arsenal side looking like they didn’t have a clue who each other were, never mind play together. And I saw a Reading side, hungry to win, playing with purpose, a plan, something that Arsenal all too often seem to lack. One can only wonder how much of a tonic was provided by Theo Walcott’s delightful chip just before half time, how much was provided by Arsene Wenger in that break. It’s well known that Arsene is not a big believer in regularly rolling out the hairdryer, but I don’t see how he could have avoided it last night. Especially as two of Reading’s goals were a direct consequence of us shooting ourselves in the foot.
I made it downstairs for extra time and it was clear to me that there was only one likely winner now- and it wasn’t the home side. Sure enough a bout of uncontested passing saw Chamakh interchanging with Giroud (loved the precision of his header, btw), before rifling home from outside the box. Yes, If Chamakh can do that from 20 yards, it’s got to be your night. Hasn’t it? Not quite. Something about it being typical of Arsenal to come back like this and then throw it away was barely out of my mouth when some Reading fella was left with too much time to cross the ball following a corner. A slight deflection off Arshavin took the ball straight onto Pogbrenyak’s head. Five all with 4 minutes left. But in this most bonkers of matches, would anyone have bet on the scoring ending there?
Giroud went agonisingly close, again from distance. The keeper, Federici didn’t move from the centre of the goal. But the ball was just wide. But there was still time for Andrei Arshavin, in the final minute of extra time, to run pretty much the length of the Reading pitch- yes, Arshavin- and cut into the penalty area and drill the ball past Federici. The ball was cleared from the line but only as far Theo Walcott who buried it. A totally bonkers night was put to rest when Chris Gunter ducked under a high ball, leaving it to his keeper. But the ball was never getting there and Marouane Chamakh, apparently enlivened with the Power of Greyskull had anticipated this. He calmly ran onto the ball and, equally calmly, lifted the ball over the stranded Federici and home. To borrow from Arsene’s post match tennis analogy, it was game, set and match.
I’m wary of pontificating too much, if at all, here. But it seems to me that, with all due respect to the first teamers not involved in this game, Arsenal have a bit of a habit of starting games too slowly, of being unable to deal with an opponent getting in their face. It’s not an observation purely based on last night and it is something I think we’ve got to change because you don’t get to come back from 4-0 down too often- not that we’ve been 4-0 down that often. Manchester United, it is safe to say, will not be as forgiving at the weekend. I wonder if the way the team is set up to play is part of the problem- too much emphasis on possession and a lack of penetration. I also wonder if Arsenal can take confidence from the nature of this comeback in the same way that when Newcastle did it to us, it essentially killed off what was, up until that point, a very promising season.
You will know by now that I remain a fan of our mercurial Russian, despite the law of diminishing returns. My delight at the nature of his contribution to our comeback, as well as the win against Everton, has been slightly tempered by the fact that I was told earlier today he will not be ours for much longer as a deal is done for him to return to Russia in January. I don’t know how true that is but it’s hardly the most surprising bit of news ever. All things considered, he’s been a bit of a disappointment, but I’m not convinced he bears sole responsibility for that.
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