Classic matches revisited: Reading 5-7 Arsenal - League Cup football at its ludicrous best

The much-maligned tournament brought about one of the most incredible football matches in living memory at the Madejski Stadium

Classic matches revisited: Reading 5-7 Arsenal - League Cup football at its ludicrous best
Reading defenders collapse as Theo Walcott scores in stoppage time | Photo: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

There are plenty of people within the English football pyramid who feel that the League Cup, under its many guises, is an unnecessary distraction.

Generally, this view is most prevalent among fans of the 'big clubs', who have more important things on their mind. They can put out a team of youngsters and let the game resolve itself one way or another, and focus on securing a top-four finish while reminding the rest of us that the FA Cup isn't that good either, unless you also qualify for Europe.

To dismiss the League Cup as 'tinpot' is football snobbery at its most irritating. Ask fans of Birmingham CitySwansea CityBradford City or Middlesbrough and you'll probably find that the competition holds a lot of significance, perhaps their favourite football memories. 

That the competition tends to be played out by fringe players is seen as a bad thing, while it is also a bad thing that young players don't get enough chances at the bigger clubs. Harry Kane scored his first White Hart Lane goal in the competition, and from that springboard went on to become England's greatest ever player and winner of the 2018 World Cup (probably).

But aside from these sensible arguments, it's also true that from time to time, the League Cup is just downright ridiculous. And that's great.

Five seasons ago, the innocuous-looking tie of Reading against Arsenal brought about one of those occasions. It had everything. Goals - twelve of them - an own goal, a hat-trick, Emmanuel Frimpong, a 96th-minute equaliser, goals - twelve of them - and a comeback from 4-0 in half an hour. Strap yourselves in, because it was a hell of a ride.

 

Royals rampant as Arsenal youngsters fold

Though Arsène Wenger surprised approximately zero people anywhere in the world by making eleven changes and fielding a team almost exclusively made of reserve players, it still naturally came as a surprise when after 37 minutes, the scoreline at the Madejski Stadium read Reading 4-0 Arsenal.

Kaspars Gorkss even had time to head against the woodwork from a corner before the scoring got underway, as Jason Roberts slipped away from Laurent Koscielny and volleyed home from Hal Robson-Kanu's low cross with 12 minutes played.

Things went from bad to worse for the Frenchman six minutes later as Chris Gunter's cross from the right deflected off his outstretched leg and beat goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez at the near post.

Arsenal's collapse continued apace as two minutes later, Mikele Leigertwood fired a fairly harmless-looking shot at the keeper from the left corner of the area. Martinez misjudged the effort, which cannoned up into the air and spun back into the goal off the Spaniard's gloves.

The scoring let up for a quarter of an hour but with half-time looming, the Royals were in dreamland as Noel Hunt directed a precise header in off the base of the post.

 

Walcott gets the Gunners' ball rolling

With some Arsenal fans taking the always inadvisable step of leaving the game with an hour to play, it was almost five as Johan Djourou, wearing the captain's armband, opted to completely ignore the pressing danger of a gentle backpass from Carl Jenkinson and Martinez was needed to scramble off his line to clear away with Hunt more alert and bearing down on the ball.

In first-half stoppage time, though, there was a change of momentum and an ominous sign of things to come for the home side as Theo Walcott was set through on goal and lifted a delicious finish over the advancing Adam Federici.

Olivier Giroud was introduced to the fray with an hour played and took just a couple of minutes to drag the deficit back down to two with a glancing header from a corner.

 

Two Arsenal goals at the death

Federici saved a long-range Giroud effort and a powerful low header from Marouane Chamakh as Arsenal sensed a route back into the game but it wasn't until the 89th minute that the unmarked Koscielny made up for his earlier error to head in from another corner.

Then, with six minutes of added time played, Walcott seized on a Chamakh knock-down to bundle the ball past Federici and marginally over the line as Nicky Shorey tried to hack it clear. Jenkinson made sure with the rebound, but the goal was Walcott's.

Desperation turned to despair for those of a blue-and-white disposition eight minutes into extra time, as Chamakh was given time to line up a shot and fire into the bottom-left corner from outside the area to give Arsenal the lead for the first time.

Walcott had a good chance to complete his hat-trick just after the break but opted to shoot across Federici rather than slot it into a gaping space at the near post and his low effort was saved. That gave the game another chance to swing back the other way.

 

False hope for Reading

Martinez made an impressively acrobatic save at the other end to keep Arsenal ahead but he was powerless to stop Reading squaring things up in the 116th minute as Pavel Pogrebnyak pounced on a deflected set piece to head in at close range.

Usually, penalties would seem like the obvious outcome with a match level at this stage. But, with ten goals already scored, both sides knew there was still a chance to nick it at the death - and fortune swung the way of the Gunners.

Hearts sank amongst the home fans as Andrei Arshavin bore down on goal from the left flank but his effort was cleared off the line, only to be smashed home by Walcott to nab his third of the game in the 121st minute.

Finally, with 123 minutes played, the visitors made the game safe. An exhausted Reading defence missed a crucial header on the halfway line and allowed Chamakh in on goal, with the Moroccan rounding off the Arsenal scoring as it had begun with a sumptuous lob.

Chamakh crossed his hands in celebration as if to say "that'll do", and 7-5 was how it ended. Wenger was bemused, Brian McDermott shell-shocked, and nobody was complaining that it was only a League Cup match.

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This article is part of a regular feature series, 'Classic Matches Revisited'. Check out the last entry, on Porto's Champions League final win under José, here.