View From The North Bank: Reading 5 Arsenal 7 AET
The Capital One Cup (I preferred it when it was the Littlewoods) isn’t supposed to matter. It’s meant to be a time to sit back and enjoy Football without the pressure of desperately needing a result. An opportunity to watch the stars of the future stake their claim for senior status.
Even in light of last night’s simply astonishing comeback, the competition still doesn’t really matter: What is of consequence is our reputation. 4-0 down to Reading, at any stage of the proceedings, would’ve been embarrassing no matter what competition. Our second half performance became less about a passage to the Quarter Finals and more about a collective demonstration of spirit.
The first half was abysmal with the annoyingly familiar opener setting the tone. Reading were allowed oceans of space to put in a cross and Koscielny completely lost track of the not exactly sprightly Jason Roberts – even if his movement was expert. Still, only 1-0, nothing to be too ashamed of, it was our second string at least.
The second and third goals were what made the game serious. More poor defending and Reading, who were admittedly flying at this stage, looked like they could have as many goals as they wanted. They settled on four for the first half and left a woozy Arsenal side scratching their heads.
Despite barely stringing a pass together there were still vague suggestions that we might get in behind if only we upped the urgency a little bit. A small amount of improvement in the last 5 minutes of the half created a chance for Chamakh and a splendidly taken opener for Walcott.
In fairness, Reading had the opportunity to extend their lead after the break but the fact we managed to retain the 4-1 score line was essential. The additions of Giroud and Eisfeld completely switched the game in our favour. Giroud looked lively, chasing the ball down, eager to have a shot; everything Chamakh wasn’t in the first half. His goal was an expertly taken header and should reiterate the importance of decent service when he’s in the box.
Eisfeld too added an extra impetus. Where the game had been static for too long, with too many passes bereft of purpose, the young German added some urgency. His dribbling caused Reading untold problems and his passing was direct and incisive.
The other key part of our recovery was Arshavin. The enigmatic Russian usually shoulders his fair share of blame when things go wrong, often with good cause, but last night I thought he deserved credit. The problem with Andrei is often his casual approach to the game. He too often wastes simple passes and wrong foots his team mates. He did a fair bit of that last night but equally he was responsible for much of the good stuff as the game wore on.
Arshavin is an inconsistent player but, in a sense, his style dictates that. When he gets the ball he invariably wants to carry it or pick a key pass. He walks a fine line of success and failure. For every eye of the needle pass there will be several that miss by inches. He has an eye for something special and any good team needs that. Possession should rightly be protected but not everyone should be encouraged to recycle the ball and covet 90% pass completion. Some players need to take risks. Of course, Arshavin will probably leave sooner rather than later and, on balance, that would probably be about right, I just think it’s important to recognise the value his particular style still offers.
Then of course we have Theo Walcott. There can be absolutely no complaint about his application or his goal scoring this season. His finishing has been, on the whole, unerring. Anyone would think he’s playing for a new contract. Joking aside, that in itself would be an encouraging development. With all the players that have talked themselves out of the door Theo has stayed pretty much schtum and, when called upon, his displays have been pretty good.
A hat-trick against Reading is hardly the herald of the new Thierry Henry, but his decent form demonstrated in glimpses this term poses a serious question for Wenger and the Board. If the sticking point is genuinely over the desire for a £100k a week contract then it strikes me that we might be best advised to swallow it.
Theo has his shortcomings but I still think we’re better when he plays. £100k p/w is a lot of money but a Footballer with his skills – specifically pace and finishing – will earn that somewhere. It would be a shame if we lost him to another team when the money is undoubtedly in the bank. Perhaps Theo needs to keep this sort of form up if he is going to make Wenger blink. Thankfully, he’s showing the signs that he’s serious about earning his contract and starting place.
And so it ended 7-5. Even Chamakh scored. Twice! It was an evening that will live long in the memory. The important thing wasn’t progression in the fifth most important of this season’s targets, in fact at half time winning wasn’t even important. What we really wanted was to see a team shake off that familiar lethargy and put in a shift that showed they didn’t like losing any more than we did. Thankfully, they managed that recovery and we have to hope it lights a fire under the squad for the rest of the season. Starting on Saturday at Old Trafford.
Keep The Faith