Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reading 5 Arsenal 7 (AET) Capital One Cup 4th Round

It was a crazy game of football, which was hailed by many as the greatest match they had ever seen. Both teams deserve credit for their parts in this game, but Arsenal's comeback, in particular, should go down in history.

Arsene Wenger made wholesale changes to the starting XI who faced QPR last Saturday, which was widely expected not only because of his well-known policy to use the League Cup competition for the development of his young players, but also because he needed to rest key players after tough weeks including the international break and keep them fresh ahead of this weekend's crucial clash with Manchester United.

The starting line-up was usual mix of fringe first-teamers and youngsters. Although Arsene Wenger made it clear in the AGM that this trophy lied at the bottom of his priority list, Arsenal's impressive track record of progressing in this competition indicated that the boss has always aimed to field a good enough team to win each game.

Perhaps, this unfamiliar mixture of players was behind Arsenal's disastrous first 37 minutes. We couldn't understand how our last season's best defender, Koscielny, and our best defender two seasons ago, Djourou, could play so badly. Miquel was clearly struggling in his less familiar position, making Andre Santos look like the best left-back in the world. Even in-form Jenkinson looked somewhat rusty, after having been left out of the first-team starting line-up for the first time this season last Saturday.

However, the poor collective performance was blamed for Arsenal's defensive frailty as well as the defenders' individual mistakes. Walcotts' misplaced pass and Chamakh's failure to clear the line resulted in the two of Reading's first-half four goals.

On the attacking side, passing was slow with no urgency or purpose, resembling the first-team's recent performances. Everything seemed to have gone wrong for Arsenal, apart from a lucky escape in the third minute, when Morrison's header came off the woodwork and then hit our keeper Martinez's head (who probably didn't know much about it), ricocheting to the safety. At Las Mimosas bar, we all agreed that this was the worst Arsenal performance in years, even worse than the last couple of games.

However, Arsenal seemed to have finally woken up from Halloween spells after conceding four goals in 37 minutes. In a quick counter-attack, after Arshavin intercepted a lobbed pass, Walcott clipped home, providing us a glimpse of hope in injury time of the first half. The goal gave Arsenal a lifeline.

We were disappointed to see no changes to the team at half time. The game resumed at 4-1 and after Arsenal weathered Reading attack, it was Arsenal's turn to storm back. In the 62nd minute, Wenger had finally decided to make changes. Much to our delight, Giroud and a promising 19-year-old, Thomas Eisfeld, came off the bench in exchange of Gnabry and Frimpong. We expected Giroud to replace Chamakh, who hadn't impressed us up to this point, but the boss' decision to leave the Morocco international on the pitch proved to be spot-on later on.

Giroud provided our much-awaited second goal just two minutes after he came on. He injected some energy and a spark to the team. However, no more goals came until a minute before the end of normal time, when we started conceding that we were going out of the competition before making quarter-finals for the first time in ten years. Although our hopes were fading, we were happy that at least Arsenal tried and showed what Arsenal's style of football is like. The amount of chances they created in the second half only pleased the fans as they have been few and far between them these days. It would be a bonus if Giroud, who will become one of our main players in one day without doubt, could take courage from his performance and the impact he made in this game.

As time was about to run out with only two minutes left in normal time, Koscielny redeemed himself by scoring at the right end this time round. Then, with what was going to be the last kick of the game, Arsenal grabbed an equaliser through Theo's shot. It was debatable at the time whether the whole of the ball crossed the line, but what mattered was that Arsenal snatched an equaliser at the end of stoppage time. There was no room for argument for that as Jenkinson stabbed the rebound into the back of the net to make doubly sure. The goal scorer was later confirmed and Theo was awarded Arsenal's fourth goal. (I wouldn't have minded a bit, if, Jenkinson, a life long Arsenal supporter, had been on the score sheet for the first time for his beloved club).

13th minutes into extra time, Chamakh had finally woken up from his 13-month slumber to score a goal, putting us in front for the first time. Then Pogrebnyak equalised 12 minutes later for Reading, but Theo got a winner to complete his hat-trick and Chamakh added to his goal tally to finish off the incredible night in the last minute of extra time. All football fans were treated to amazing dramas in the eve of Halloween.

Although only Giroud and possibly Walcott out of this team are likely to start against Manchester United this weekend, hopefully the whole first-team will be inspired by the never-say-die spirit shown by this night's side.

6,000 travelling supporters also attracted media attention. We are proud of our fellow Gooners who stuck behind the team. They were louder than the home fans. On the other hand, some of the travelling fans got stick for leaving the stadium at half time. We understand the feeling of those fans as well. Sometimes it is too hard to watch your team when they are playing awfully. One particular Arsenal supporter was caught on camera as he was leaving his seat before half time, but he defended his action by stating he was just going to get a pint, which understandably he needed. Apparently he remained at the ground thoroughout the game to witness one of the most amazing football match.

We also praise those fans who gave Giroud and Coquelin their shirts back before extra time. The two Arsenal players thought there would be a replay and didn't realise they had to play another half an hour until one of the Arsenal subs went to tell them. Newspaper reports say that Arsenal FC are now looking for those fans, examining CCTV footage, in order to present replica Giroud and Coquelin shirts to them. Arsenal always do things properly, don't they?

Player ratings

Martinez: 4
He has been sitting on the bench with the first-team this season due to injuries to the two keepers top of the pecking order. He didn't put his foot wrong in the previous round of the Capital One Cup (he couldn't do much about Coventry's only goal), which warranted his starting place in this match. He looked like an amateur keeper this day. He was guilty for Reading's third goal. He made a few fine saves afterwards, but he looked shaky.  Towards the end of extra time, Wenger was furious about him taking a goal-kick too quickly before his team-mates were ready. His Capital One Cup campaign may be over as Szczesny is very close to his return, which means Mannone will soon be taking over the Cup keeper role.

Jenkinson: 7
Despite his slow start, he was all over the pitch (in a good sense) in the second half, delivering some good crosses. He stayed focused and kept his cool in the goalmouth melée to make sure his team got an equaliser.

Djourou: 5
Had a poor game. He was beaten by Reading players too easily.

Koscielny: 5
He was simply dreadful in the first half.

Miquel: 4
Although we have to take into account the fact that he was played out of position, he was still poor. He played at the left-back a few times last season as we were going through the full-back injury crisis, so we expected better from him. Got injured and stretchered off in the 105th minute.

Frimpong: 5
We like his combative approach to games, but he was ineffective in this game and taken off in the 62nd minute.

Coquelin: 5
His passing was very sloppy and he looked as if he hadn't cared in the first half.

Walcott: 8
Put in some good crosses and scored hat-trick. His finishing was very good.

Arshavin: 8
He was given a chance again to play his favourite position just behind the central striker. He looked eager to show what he could contribute to the team, giving 100% for the full 120 minutes. Made three assists, including his powerful effort that led to Walcott's match-winner.

Gnabry: 5
Despite hypes about the 17-year-old Germany youth international prior to the match, his performance was disappointing. He had a couple of good efforts, but his defensive contribution was non-existent, apart from one crucial block early in the second half, which didn't help the make-shift left-back, Miquel, at all.

Chamakh: 7
Scored two goals, but his first-half performance was as bad as others'. Difference from his previous appearances was that he was more mobile in this game. His first goal epitomised this. In the build-up to it, he passed the ball to Giroud and made a run to collect the ball from Arshavin, who received a pass from Giroud. Hopefully, this will boost his confidence and re-ignite his Arsenal career.


Giroud: 8
Replaced Frimpong in the 62nd minute. Super sub who made a big difference. This experience should give him a huge confidence boost or at least a feel-good factor.

Eisfeld: 7
Came on in the 62nd minute for Gnabry. We were really looking forward to seeing him in first-team action. He had a sensational pre-season and has scored a couple of good goals in the U-21 game recently. He is a real bright prospect for Arsenal. And we were not disappointed when we saw him play (we WERE disappointed when we didn't see his name in the starting XI). He made good runs, causing problems for Reading defence, forcing fouls and winning free-kicks at the edge of the box. We think he is readier and more all-round than Gnabry. The ex-Dortmund man's stellar performance seems to have gone unnoticed by many amid the other players' eye-catching displays (he still won praises from a section of fans, though), but introducing the talented young German to a senior-team game was definitely one of many positives from the game.

Meade: 6
Substituted injured Miquel in the 105th minute.

No comments:

Post a Comment