Football is littered with catchphrases and clichés. One of the best-known is “it’s not over till the final whistle.” On the face of it, that might sound like a hackneyed statement of the obvious. Yet when a team is trailing by four goals and even their own fans are turning against them, it would be understandable for heads to drop. We remember the Arsenal team that took one of football’s most important clichés to heart.
Fifth on the priority list
At Arsenal’s 2012 AGM, just days before their showdown with Reading for a quarter-final place, Arsène Wenger had said the League Cup was fifth on the priority list. Seconds before the half time whistle, his team were trailing 4-0 and seemed to have taken his words a little too much to heart.
The Gunners put in an error-strewn performance, but Reading played out of their skin to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. Theo Walcott got them on the scoreboard in first-half stoppage time, and added another early in the second half, but even that gave no clue of what was to come.
That sinking feeling
Reading defended their lead and, with a minute remaining, were still 4-2 up. If the modern phenomenon of live betting had been around back then, you can only wonder what odds you would have got on an Arsenal victory at that moment.
Yet, suddenly, and unaccountably, Koscielny found himself unmarked and perfectly positioned to nod in a Walcott cross, and in the fifth minute of injury time, Walcott himself added his third to take the game into extra time.
A surreal finale
From there things took on an almost dreamlike quality – or perhaps the stuff of nightmares for the suddenly silenced home supporters. The Arsenal unit, which looked more like a Sunday league team in the first half, had transformed into something more akin to Wenger’s Invincibles from eight years earlier.
Marouane Chamakh found the back of the net early to give Arsenal the lead, but still there was more drama to come in the shape of a header from Pogrebnyak to level again at 5-5. It was Walcott, inevitably, who had the decisive final say, thundering his fourth and Arsenal’s sixth into the net from eight yards out. A stylish lob over the head of goalkeeper Adam Federici to make it 7-5 was the cherry on top.
Arsenal’s bizarre progress in the League Cup continued. Wenger’s men drew Bradford in the quarter-final, the lowest-ranked team remaining and the only surviving representatives from League Two. Yet they somehow managed to lost on penalties, as Bradford made it all the way to the final.
It is for Reading that we should really feel sorry. The team had played magnificently for so much of what was one of the most memorable games ever. It’s one most of us would happily relive, but when asked after the game whether he would be watching the DVD, Royals Manager Brian McDermott said he would “probably throw it in the bin.”