How on earth does one even begin to analyse the fallout from the jaw-dropping 12 goal thriller between Arsenal and Reading in midweek? Gunners manager Arsene Wenger had labelled the League Cup as the club’s bottom priority at the annual general meeting last week – and, for a while, it seemed as if Arsenal were interested in winning it at all.
After 40 minutes the Gunners found themselves 4-0 down at the Madejski Stadium, later dubbed the Mad-ejski Stadium, and boss Wenger was staring down the barrel of the gun.
Laurent Koscielny, a first team regular not so long ago, was dominated by the fairly rustic Jason Roberts. Young goalkeeper Damian Martinez was on his way to establishing himself as the club’s lead flapper. And the fair wedge of travelling support chanted: “We
All was forgotten a couple of hours later as the Gunners – inspired by Theo Walcott and second-half substitute Olivier Giroud – mounted a remarkable turnaround to take the tie into extra time and eventually book their place in the League Cup quarter-finals.
It was an astonishing comeback, and credit has to go to Wenger and his team for that, but it would be wise to maintain a sense of perspective and level-headedness.
The Arsenal side which started the game was not massively inexperienced by any means. Walcott, Koscielny, Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Johan Djourou all have extensive experience of top-flight football in England. But for 40 minutes, they were destroyed by an out-of-form Reading team which was missing several first team regulars.
Indeed, had Walcott not scored on the stroke of half-time to reduce the deficit to 4-1, Reading would have been much more comfortable going into the second period. Contract rebel Walcott’s goal gave the visitors a psychological edge, despite the fact they still trailed by three goals.
But Wenger is not one to dwell on the negatives – and, in a match where you score seven times, there are undeniable positives.
For example, the never-say-die attitude which was present to some extent against Queens Park Rangers was built on again on Tuesday night. Such determination and grit is something Arsenal have improved on immeasurably over the last 12 months.
Also, German youngster Thomas Eisfeld won plenty of admirers in his brief cameo appearance. The midfielder looked composed, classy and creative and on that showing, at 19-years-old, first team football might not be too far away.
But the biggest plus must be the influence of Walcott. Free to roam from his usual right-wing berth, Walcott floated inside all night and caused the Reading central defence plenty of problems.
His performance in this high-scoring thriller will probably earn him a start against Manchester United this weekend. And Wenger, after last year’s 8-2 drubbing against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, will be hoping his defence are in a more conservative mood.
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