Arsenal mounted an incredible comeback from 4-0 down to win 7-5 after extra time at Reading in a truly extraordinary League Cup fourth-round tie at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night.
The game was headed into half-time 4-0 to Reading and fans contemplating an early departure when Theo Walcott struck his first goal of the game just before the whistle – but at 4-1 there was still too much to do for Arsenal in the eyes of everyone at the stadium and those watching the game. Everyone, that is, except the Arsenal players.
Bit by bit, Arsenal clawed their way back. The second was scored in the 67th minute, giving the Gunners a glimmer of home. The third followed inexorably late, in the 89th minute, with Koscielny partially atoning for an earlier own-goal while giving Arsenal their third. With all the delays, there were going to be four minutes of extra time but Arsenal persevered, and in the fifth minute of injury time Jenkinson struck (initially the goal was awarded to Walcott but later correctly given to Jenkinson), taking the score to 4-4 and the game to extra time.
The madness did not end there – Arsenal led in the first half of extra time before Reading equalised in the second half, and for a moment it seemed that Reading would be able to steal it in the end after all, dashing all the hopes built up in last hour of football.
But then Walcott scored in the first minute of injury time of extra time before Chamakh rounded up the scoring with a goal in the third minute (of injury time (of extra time)) to seal a remarkable 7-5 win.
The win enables the Gunners to take their place in the last eight for the 10th successive season, and led Reading to officially congratulate their counterparts on Twitter.
Arsenal will celebrate this win but also look ahead to the weekend game against United – with most of their usual starting XI rested in the Reading game – with renewed enthusiasm. Wenger plays to win above all else, but last season Arsenal were on the wrong end of another big scoreline at Old Trafford, a 8-2 tonking in August that lead to panic buying in the final days of the Premier League transfer window.
Arsenal are more settled now and United have more problems – but unlike Reading, United are not going to give up a lead this easily, regardless of whether they slow down in the second half or not (as they’ve tended to do in recent seasons).
Against United, Arsenal will need to eliminate the mistakes as much (or even more) than draw on their fighting spirit from this game to come away with a positive result. As much as today’s match was enjoyable, Wenger will know that it has no bearing on what happens on Saturday – to think otherwise would be to invite the same false sense of security that lead to last season’s collapse at Old Trafford.