When Arsenal decided to play Reading with 11 changes to the starting line – up that won the league match last weekend, none would have questioned Arsene Wenger’s decision. He is one of the greatest managers to grace the beautiful game. But when a newly promoted team like Reading took a 4-0 lead within 37 minutes, almost everyone must have thought the match was far from over. There were worry lines on every Arsenal fan as they looked set to exit the league cup. Wenger must have had a speech ready for his team at half time, some words to motivate his team. What exactly did he say? What game play changes and tactics did he change? Every football fan and pundit would now want to know that now, because after going down 4-0 not a single person would have predicted a final score line of 7-5 to Arsenal. The winner today was not just Arsenal it was also football. In a weekend that saw three match results being altered due to wrong calling on the offside by linesmen and a referee sending off two players in a high profile match a match where 12 goals were shared between two teams was just what football needed.
The main architect behind the win was the man whose future is still uncertain at the Emirates – Theo Walcott. Walcott is still to sign a new contract with the Gunners and after his performance today everyone will be hoping that Arsenal keep him.
Reading played well and they deservingly went ahead thanks to goals by Jason Roberts, Mikele Leigertwood, Noel Hunt and an own goal by Laurent Koscielny. Walcott gave the Gunners some hope before half time by pulling one back just before half time. When Wenger substituted Giroud in after the 62nd minute, people would have been saying – “He is sending in a man who has scored so very few goals so far when Arsenal require 3 in 30 minutes”. Giroud was an instant impact as he headed in a goal within two minutes on the field. The score remained unaltered till the 88th minute and once again people started writing off Arsenal. This time the man who scored the own goal stepped up and headed one in to make it 4-3 for Arsenal. The match moved into injury time and the score remained 4-3 and Arsenal desperately needed one more to take the match into injury time. Stepped up Theo Walcott the right man for the right occasion and he forced the match into extra time after scoring one deep into the injury time.
Arsenal though they had won it when Marouane Chamakh making his first start since January scored one to make it advantage Arsenal. It was his first goal in 13 months for Arsenal. 13 minutes into extra time Reading scored to make it 5 each. Replays suggested that Pogrebnyak might have been offside. The goal did not make much difference as Arsenal were persistent not to let the match go into extra time as they scored their sixth when Arshavin’s shot was saved and it bounced into the path of Walcott who drilled it into the net. Chamakh added the seventh just before the whistle when he lobbed one over the goal keeper to hammer the final nail into Reading’s coffin.
It was not the greatest comeback in football, nowhere close to the Champions’ League final comebacks by Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea. It was the timing of such a match that was the key. A match that proved that football is still alive.