Reading 5-7 Arsenal
I can think of a few bonkers results in this competition over the years – winning 6-2 at Liverpool courtesy of the Beast being one – but in all my years watching Arsenal I can’t ever recall anything with as much bouncebackability as this.
If you’d stumbled upon my Twitter timeline after 45 minutes you’d have marked my card as a depressive. I had motored into sarcasm overdrive, wondering whether we could have a trophy for getting to the third round of the FA Cup and comparing Reading’s impressive Robson-Kanu unfavourably with a hybrid Arsenal player called Stepanovs-Helder. We had been outplayed, outfought and all over the place. “We want our Arsenal back”, sang the massed ranks of masochists in the away end. Then Theo scuttled through to an Arshavin pass and it was 4-1.
Can you throw a dead man a lifeline?
I asked on Twitter.
The start of the second half suggested the answer was no. Reading began it like they left off but then Arsenal edged back into the game and Wenger brought Eisfeld and Giroud on at about 60 minutes. For him to bring subs on at 60 minutes is almost unheard of. It suggests apocalypse. I have scoured the records and the only other time he has dipped into the bench this early (when not forced to by injury) was when JFK was shot.
Theo corner, Giroud header, 4-2. ‘La, la la la-la-la-la, Girooooooud’ sang the increasingly less miserable legions.
Oh no. It’s the hope that kills you. 4-2.
I wrote. And the game from a fan’s perspective had in one nod of a Frenchman’s head moved into the next phase: Nerves. Where previously there was a grizzly acceptance there were now the small shoots of hope. Football has a lot to answer for.
We looked like a different team. Energetic, incisive, determined. Why the polar opposites? It’s very Arsenal isn’t it and I couldn’t begin to tell you. Anyway, Old Father Time was scything away at the long grass and it was 89 minutes in. Theo corner, Koscielny header, 4-3. I didn’t tweet at this point, I think mostly because I had just fallen off the sofa.
And then in the 96th minute, fashionably later than the four minutes allotted (maybe because Reading has subbed in injury time? I neither know nor care at this point), Theo stabbed a shot past Federici, and over the line it went. Except the lino didn’t give it, so Corporal Jenkinson hoovered up the rebound to be sure. Arsenal.com gives it to Jenkinson, but Theo had the match ball. I’m not sure whether they can rule it was Theo’s after the event, though it was – but I’m not sure. Either way, out came the Twitter and things had all gone a bit Caps Lock.
BLOODY HELL AND DAMNATION! 4-4.
The amazing turnaround was reaching its dénouement, and extra time belonged to Marouane Chamakh. Yes, I know what I just wrote.
Chamakh! I repeat, Chamakh!
I said after his first. In the end he nabbed two – both from outside the box – to counter Reading’s fifth and it was game over. Delighted for him to be honest, because players who don’t play struggle, as he has done, and this might give him and Wenger pause for thought.
Now look, I’ve missed half the talking points and I’ve largely skated over a first half that made me weep, but that’s alright. Theo was excellent, Giroud and Eisfeld made a difference, Arshavin reminded us of his passing radar and Arsenal dug deep to register a famous win.
It doesn’t matter whether this is the lowest of all in Wenger’s list of trophies (one of which isn’t even a trophy), it’s all about winning. Football is about momentum and morale and confidence, and last night will be the kind of shot in the arm the club needs. Imagine if we’d limped out 4-0, and then remember who we play on Saturday. Though Wenger did of course omit most of our first XI, I’m not sure he has the luxury of choice these days. Let’s go for this: Let’s go for everything. Why would you not?
Feels good, anyway.
Incidentally: The fourth circle of hell according to Dante’s Inferno is reserved for the ‘miserly and spendthrift’. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.