FLIPPING WHAAAAAAAAAAT - Scott Heavey
Seriously, what even was that? Arsenal come storming back from an embarrassing deficit, end up winning. Chamakh scored twice. I don't know.
Okay, here goes.
4-1 Theo Walcott 45+2'
4-2 Olivier Giroud 64'
4-3 Laurent Koscielny 89'
4-4 Theo Walcott (or possibly Carl Jenkinson?) 90+5
4-5 Marouane Chamakh 103'
5-5 Pavel Pogrebnyak 116'
5-6 Theo Walcott 120'
5-7 Marouane Chamakh 120+3
I honestly am at a loss for words. This shouldn't have been necessary - Reading are a team that we should be beating 3-0, not 7-5, and sure as hell shouldn't ever be 4-0 up on Arsenal - but in retrospect, it was a pretty cool experience. Not something I'd like to go through again, but I sure won't forget it soon.
The short version, for those who missed it: Arsenal defense was atrocious early, and allowed Reading a 4-0 lead. Somehow the team shifted and scored four of their own, including a Koscielny header on a late (LATE) corner, followed by an Arsenal equalizer six (!) minutes into injury time, scored either by Theo Walcott or Carl Jenkinson, depending on how you feel about it. A Chamakh goal late in the first half of extra time was answered by Reading, but Walcott scored just before injury time, and Chamakh hit again to seal it.
I'll talk briefly about the first half, because it's not very fun. The defense was not good. Nobody really was, but the defense on the flanks was particularly poor, and three of Reading's first four led directly from poor play on the wings. Laurent Koscielny's own goal could have been worse, I suppose, but his play wasn't what we came to expect from him last year. Young goalkeeper Damian Martinez could have been better as well, with a few questionable decisions on free kicks and a poor attempt at Reading's third. But after giving up four early goals they really shaped up for the most part until Pogrebnyak's extra time re-equalizer.
The first Arsenal goal gives an opportunity to note Andrei Arshavin, who at that point was my default man of the match, as he hadn't done anything that made me want to punch him. In sum, he was very good - granted, against a team that should be bringing out that kind of performance. But his pass through to Walcott to assist "4-1" was great, and for the most part his passing and dribbles were quite good. He also played all 120', and was still making dangerous runs to the bitter end. He wasn't perfect, but he was good.
That goal changed the game a bit, but it changed again - and again, for the benefit of Arsenal - when Arsene Wenger replaced Emmanuel Frimpong and Serge Gnabry with Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld. About a minute later Giroud scored Arsenal's second on a great header from distance, so that worked out pretty well. Both substitutes were good, and I was particularly intrigued by the play of Eisfeld. He isn't quite ready for prime time, but after a loan (or something), he might be. He looked assured in possession for the most part, and physically strong and willing to drive forward. Giroud, on the other hand, was basically what I've come to expect from him - good target man, moves the defense around, scored a goal.
Late on, still down two, it looked like the shallow comeback might have been for naught, until a corner with a minute left in normal time found Koscielny's head. It was his second goal, and his first for the proper team. There would be a late surge.
And on a late counterattack, someone scored to equalize. Who it was depends on your opinion of the definition of the word "is." In reality, Theo Walcott (it appears) scored, as his shot inched across the goal line before being cleared out. Nobody called it, though, so Carl Jenkinson had to rush in to prevent a week of all of us shrieking about goal-line technology. Arsenal credits Jenkinson with the goal, as did Walcott - it would be his first for the club he supports - but really, Walcott had a hat trick. This is a real existential debate that Sartre and Camus would be proud of, but either way the match went to extra time.
And thirteen minutes in, something miraculous happened. Marouane Chamakh scored a goal. It went all the way in and everything. It was his first since the Ford Administration, and put Arsenal ahead for the first time in the game, and in what seems like a month. It was a good goal and Chamakh had actually been decent for much of the game, but it was a shock.
Then Reading equalized. It was more poor defending, as the flanks were (again) exploited. A cross found a Reading player at the top of the 18 with nary a red shirt in sight, and he crossed back the other way where either of two strikers had a free header. Pogrebnyak found the ball, and it looked like penalties.
Theo Walcott and the Arsenal forwards weren't done, though. With injury time beginning, Arshavin raced down the left side and shot. It was cleared off the line by a defender, but the ball fell to Walcott, and he blasted it in the back of the net to put Arsenal ahead again. With only a couple of minutes remaining, it looked like the game was decided. Chamakh shortly thereafter seized on a mistake by a defender and lobbed the 'keeper to seal it, and bag a brace for the first time since before men landed on the moon. 7-5, and it was as crazy as it sounds.
The first half performance was far from good - some might even say "bad" - but the response was everything an Arsenal fan could have hoped for, and more. If the draw and some results fall right, this remains a winnable competition, even if Wenger decides to continue playing young guys. They'll have to do better than they did for the first forty minutes, but honestly, they showed for the last eighty that they can.