Walcott runs riot as Arsenal recover from four goals down
Reading 5 Arsenal 7 (After extra-time)
League Cup 4th round
IT WAS a game of football which ended up with a tennis scoreline as Arsenal amazingly recovered from 4-0 down to reach the quarter-finals of the League Cup at the Madejski Stadium.
Atrocious for 40 minutes, Arsenal finally found some pride in their shirt and pulled off one of the great escapes thanks to Theo Walcott's hat-trick.
This was one of the craziest of cup ties, the Mad Stad living up to its nickname. Walcott equalised five minutes into second-half stoppage-time, angering Reading players who pointed out only four minutes had been signalled. Two of the Arsenal players thought it was all over, that there would be a replay. Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts into the jubilant Arsenal fans before sheepishly having to request them back for extra-time.
Few would have put their shirts on the hitherto anonymous Marouane Chamakh to strike in extra-time but he did, a fine finish. Pavel Pogrebnyak levelled but there was Walcott and then, unbelievably, Chamakh, making it 7-5 and making a mockery of their earlier travails.
Arsenal had been a shambles in the first half. Arsene Wenger's side were three goals adrift within 20 minutes, four within 40. The late arrivals from London must have been bemused to take their seats and look in disbelief at the scoreboard.
Reading had been well worth the goals from Jason Roberts, Laurent Koscielny's own-goal and Mikele Leigertwood before Noel Hunt added a fourth ahead of the the break. Arsenal's defending was shocking, two experienced centre-halves in Koscielny and Johan Djourou proving so weak in the air. The watching Tony Adams and Martin Keown could have done better -- even at 46.
Wenger had juggled his resources as usual in this competition, making 11 changes, but there was still enough quality out there to put up more resistance than evidenced in the first-half horror show. There was Emmanuel Frimpong easing his way back from injury, the highly rated Francis Coquelin and the teenage prospect Serge Gnabry in midfield. There was Walcott, Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin in attack. Chamakh and Arshavin stood around like statues for half-an-hour before vaguely remembering there was a game going on.
At least Walcott became involved, running through and scoring on the cusp of half-time. The 4,013 Arsenal fans, all stationed behind Damian Martinez's goals, were given a ringside perch for the pummelling. They were enraged, chanting: "We want our Arsenal back".
Reading were quicker to the ball, also swift to launch counter-attacks particularly down the flanks. Brian McDermott's wide players, Hal Robson-Kanu and Garath McCleary, tormented Carl Jenkinson and Miquel Ignasi respectively.
McDermott's full-backs, Chris Gunter and Nicky Shorey, took every opportunity to join attacks. With Leigertwood controlling midfield and Roberts and Hunt moving so intelligently in attack, Reading tore Arsenal apart.
Even before they scored, Reading threatened. From a Shorey corner, Sean Morrison headed against the bar. After 12 minutes, Arsenal's misery began. Hunt released Robson-Kanu down the left and Roberts made a feint to throw his markers off the scent. When Robson-Kanu's cross came in, Roberts had that yard of space free to volley the ball into the back of Martinez's net: 1-0.
Five minutes later, Reading doubled their advantage. This time, the hosts stormed down the right, McCleary teasing the ball through Mikel's legs for Gunter to run towards the goal-line and cross. Koscielny simply diverted the ball past Martinez: 2-0.
It swiftly got worse. Two minutes later, Leigertwood let fly and Martinez's response was woeful, merely helping the ball into his own net: 3-0. Reading were flying, menacing every time they went forward, their jubilant fans chanting "olé". Eight minutes from the break, McCleary delivered a fine cross from the right and there was Hunt, beating Jenkinson in the air, to head past Martinez: 4-0.
Walcott gave Arsenal that glimmer of hope before the break, gliding through the centre and lifting the ball expertly past Adam Federici: 4-1.
Giroud then arrived, soon making his mark with a firm, 64th-minute header: 4-2.
Yet McDermott stayed bold, making some attacking substitutions, sending on Pavel Pogrebnyak and Jobi McAnuff. Yet it was Arsenal who scored next, in the 89th minute, when Koscielny headed in: 4-3.
Still Arsenal gave their fans some hope, Walcott going close before his shot deep into added time squeezed over the line: 4-4.
Extra-time maintained the madness: 4-5 5-5 5-6 5-7. Game, set and match to the Gunners. (© Daily Telegraph, London)