Incredible! Gunners stage stunning comeback to dethrone Royals in classic cup tie
Capital One Cup fourth round: Reading 5 Arsenal 7 (AET)
Arsenal staged a stunning second-half comeback as they came from four goals down to beat Reading in a 12-goal thriller with Theo Walcott bagging a hat-trick.
As the first-half was drawing to a close it looked as if the Gunners were heading out of the competition with a whimper as the rampant Royals put four past goalkeeper Damian Martinez inside the first 40 minutes.
But Walcott pulled a goal back moments before half-time before Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny set up a grandstand finish.
And with virtually the last kick of the 90, Carl Jenkinson levelled the scores to take the game to extra time.
With two minutes remaining of the first period the Gunners took the lead as Marouane Chamakh fired home from 20 yards.
But even that wasn’t enough as Pavel Pogrebnyak equalised with five minutes of extra-time remaining.
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Yet, Walcott, Arsenal’s best player throughout the 120 minutes, was on hand to bundle the ball home and seal the win and it was more emphatic as Chamakh made it 7-5 on the night.
Arsene Wenger made 11 changes to the side that scrambled a victory over QPR at the weekend with Walcott returning from injury and Chamakh making his first start since January.
But his side, whose average age was under 23, had no answer in the first-half to a virtually full-strength Royals as Jason Roberts, an own goal from Koscielny and Mikele Leigertwood all scored to give Brian McDermott’s side a comfortable lead after only 20 minutes.
And when Noel Hunt netted after 36 minutes it led to a stream of visiting fans heading for the exits for the relatively short journey back to London, although they will be regretting it in the morning.
Walcott pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time, although it was scarcely deserved on the balance of play.
Giroud caused Reading fans to panic as he reduced the deficit to two, moments after coming on.
Koscielny set up a nailbiting finale with a goal in the dying embers of normal time and Walcott levelled in the sixth minute of stoppage time as his shot went over the line but Jenkinson fired home the rebound to make sure but it was the England international that was credited with the strike that took the game into the extra half hour.
The Gunners continued to press going into added period and Chamakh put them ahead with two minutes of the first 15 remaining to give them a 5-4 lead, something that would not have been expected moments before half-time.
The Royals looked out of it but mustered up an equaliser in the dying minutes as Pogrebnyak headed home from Gunter’s cross.
With the second period up and the game looking destined for penalties Walcott restored the Gunners lead and moments later Chamakh broke free, lobbed Adam Federici and ended one of the all-time League Cup classics.
Yet, it could have been completely different as the young Gunners were given a scare in only the third minute as Sean Morrison was given the time and the space to head Nicky Shorey’s corner onto the crossbar.
Wenger’s side started to find their feet and Andrey Arshavin’s ball over the top found Theo Walcott with Gareth McCleary, scorer against Fulham, tracking back brilliantly to clear the ball behind for a corner.
However, the Royals looked dangerous every time they went forward and Jay Tabb had the time to break through the defence but keeper Damian Martinez was alert enough to rush out to block.
And it was no surprise they took the lead in the 12th minute as Noel Hunt fed Hal Robson-Kanu down the left, who produced a perfect low cross with Roberts making no mistake.
Just six minutes later it was 2-0 as Chris Gunter’s throw was collected by Kaspars Gorkks and the full back nutmegged Ignasi Miquel before firing a low cross that was turned in by Koscielny.
And incredibly it was three from the very next attack as Leigertwood’s shot was parried by Martinez into his own net.
It could have been four as Hunt had a shot that was well stopped by the goalie after Miquel brought down McCleary in the build up.
The north Londoners were so poor that passes were misplaced on a regular basis and Reading goalkeeper Federici did not have a save of note to make in the entirety of the first-half.
And it was four after 37 minutes as Hunt headed home McLeary’s cross and that was the cue for some Arsenal fans to head to the exits.
Federici was finally called into action with three minutes remaining in the first-half but Chamakh’s shot was straight at him, the stop bringing cheers from the ecstatic home fans.
Despite their first-half efforts being among the worst Wenger must have seen during his 16 years in the hotseat, Arsenal were given a lifeline in first half stoppage time as Walcott marked his return with a goal after being put through by Andrey Arshavin.
However, the way Reading started the second half it looked as if they would be adding a fifth for their collection as Miquel turned the ball over his own bar.
The Royals nearly scored again on 50 minutes, as Koscielny, who was having a torrid time in defence, had his pocket picked by the impressive Roberts.
The forward found Leigertwood in the centre but the midfielder was unable to add to his tally, firing over the bar.
Yet, after 55 minutes, the game took a complete about turn with Arsenal charging forward looking for goals.
Walcott, arguably the only bright spot of the Gunners’ performance, broke free again and Federici was alert enough to narrow the angle and parry the ball wide.
Arsenal had another chance a couple of minutes later as Chamakh fired his shot from a narrow angle across goal.
The Morroccan thought he should have had a penalty as he went down under pressure but the assistant referee did not agree and the forward was booked for his protests.
The Gunners were more fluid than they had ever been in the first 45 minutes and Jenkinson’s cross was met by Walcott, but he was unable to provide a firm touch to send the ball into the net.
Giroud, on as a 62nd minute substitute for Emmanuel Frimpong, was on the scoresheet 140 seconds later as he headed home Walcott’s corner to give the Gunners a potential lifeline and plant some doubt into the Reading players’ minds.
The Frenchman nearly made it 4-3 but Federici dived low to his right and parried the ball clear.
Giroud nearly found the net again when he looked to bundle in a Gunners corner as they continued to press for a way back into the game.
Koscielny scored in the right to set up a grandstand finish with just over 60 seconds of normal time remaining, heading home a corner.
With the last kick of the game, in the sixth minute of the added four, the Gunners, unbelievably were level as Walcott had his shot cleared from behind the goal-line and Jenkinson made sure of the equaliser, but the goal was given to the forward, which took the game into extra time.
With two minutes of the first period of extra time remaining Chamakh put the Gunners into the lead with a feint and then unleashed an effort past Federici into the bottom right hand corner.
Back came Reading and Pavel Pogrebnyak, on as a late substitute for Hunt, levelled the scores with five minutes of extra time remaining.
But that was not the end of the story as Arshavin raced forward and his cross-come-shot was cleared off the line and Walcott was on hand to hammer home the winner and Chamakh made certain two minutes later with a deft chip.
Reading: Federici, Gunter, Shorey, Leigertwood, Hunt (Pogrebnyak 74), McCleary (McAnuff 74), Morrison, Tabb, Gorkss, Robson-Kanu, Roberts (Church 90).
Unused substitutes: Pearce, Le Fondre, Harte, Taylor.
Arsenal: Martinez, Koscielny, Walcott, Djourou, Coquelin, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Frimpong (Giroud 62), Chamakh, Gnabry (Eisfeld 62), Miquel (Meade 105).
Unused substitutes: Squillaci, Bellerin, Yennaris, Shea.
Referee: Kevin Friend.