Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers AND Reading 5-7 Arsenal: Dafuq Did I Just Watch?!!

First off, everyone at The Modern Gooner and with the NYC Arsenal Supporters hopes that you and yours safely made it through the hurricane. That was scary even in perhaps the safest area in the city, so I cannot imagine what it must have been like at the coastal areas. Our thoughts are with you if you were. 

Second, my apologies for my absence over the last few weeks. I was out of town for Norwich, had the Schalke score spoiled for me with the match on my DVR (and I was NOT watching that shite once I knew what happened), and things were just busy after the QPR game.

As we all know, the first 80 minutes or so of that match were another exercise in frustration. The Norwich and Schalke results hung heavy in the air as the Arsenal probed and prodded around the edges of the Rangers penalty area. In retrospect though, it wasn't quite as bad as all that - where there was zero penetration and almost no shots on target in the two preceding fixtures, the QPR game was more of a siege on Julio Cesar's net. Had the Brazilian been anything short of brilliant on the day, the scoreline would have had far more gloss on it.

In fact, as a member of the goalkeeping fraternity myself, I admit to feeling a little bit sorry for the man. He did not deserve to be on the losing side that day.

Naturally, the big news was that Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna returned to the starting lineup. Both acquitted themselves well, with Wilshere in particular looking as sharp as ever. I don't think it's a stretch to say that his return contributed much to our improved incisiveness.

Still, as odd as it is to say, had QPR maintained their cool, we likely would have never found a way through. I wonder if Mark Hughes deliberately has these guys playing like they're Stoke, as they bordered on the vicious for most of the match. They get far too many red cards (and far too few points in the table) for a club with as much talent as they have. Stephane M'Bia had to go for his petulant kick at Thomas Vermaelen, that's for sure.

Even with that though, it took an injury to the substitute Gervinho for us to find the breakthrough. Andrei Arshavin came on in his place, and whether it was the knowledge that this was a chance to fight for his place or what, he was majestic. Immediately, Arsenal looked far more dangerous, and it was his wonderfully-weighted cross that resulted in our goal. I didn't see who got the initial touch, but Cesar made a ridiculous save to keep it out. Mikel Arteta headed against the bar, but stuck with it well to poke home the rebound. I'm not sure where QPR's defense was in all that, but I'm not complaining either. I'll take it, that's for sure.

That brings us to the Reading match (ratings for QPR below).

So, I mean, what on earth do you say about a match like that?

The first 40 minutes or so were about the worst I've ever seen Arsenal play. At the time, I was apoplectic about Arsene Wenger's team selection - I mean, what you select against Coventry City shouldn't exactly be the same kind of side you pick on the road against a Premier League side.

Damian Martinez (who you may remember from the Coventry match report as being not ready for prime time in my view) was selected in goal. Ignasi Miquel was played out of position at LB, while the rest of the defense were Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Carl Jenkinson. Two holders were played in Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong, with Andrei Arshavin, Serge Gnabry and Theo Walcott forming the three in front. Marouane Chamakh was deployed as the target man.

The team selection was an odd hodgepodge of youth and the end of the senior bench, and it showed early on. The home side could have scored early on as Sean Morrison's header clanged off the post and then off of Martinez, but thankfully went to safety. It was an early portent that went unheeded, though.

The Argentinean netminder had to be sharp to smother from a Jay Tabb breakway minutes later, but then had no answer in the 12th minute. Arshavin's giveaway in the center of the park led to a Reading break, with Hal Robson-Kanu streaking down the sideline. Djourou stood way too far off of him with Miquel nowhere, allowing an easy tap-in for Jason Roberts.

So, 1-0 down but that was only the beginning of our problems. A few minutes later, Miquel got badly nutmegged by Chris Gunter, whose cross was then turned in for yet another own-goal from Laurent Koscielny. I hesitate to say that he's entirely turned back into a pumpkin, but he was putrid in the first half and the absolute shitshow served up by Miquel didn't help him any. Every Reading attack seemed to come down that side, and it just went to show that the young Spaniard out of position was no match for a Premier League side.

It only took a further two minutes for us to go down another goal, as Martinez showed once again (I called this, remember...go back and read the Coventry match report again) that he is not ready for prime time. A corner was cleared, but it came to Mikele Leigertwood at the edge of the area. He sent a relatively harmless shot in, which Martinez somehow palmed into his own net. Don't believe the nonsense you may read about him trying to Hollywood the save - professional goalkeepers just don't do that. It was merely a case of a 20-year old who isn't technically all there and shouldn't have been in a game of this magnitude.

One would have thought we could make it to halftime with no further breaches, but Miquel ensured that wouldn't happen. Again, he was beyond awful as he stood way too far off of his man, allowing a cross to come in. Noel Hunt outjumped Jenkinson, and nestled his header into the far corner. Now it was 4-0, and on one hand you can almost understand the few among the traveling support who left at this point. On the other hand, my personal belief is that you NEVER leave early, because you never know when a little bit of magic may happen.

Had Reading made it to halftime with no goals against, I imagine they would have gone on to win the game comfortably. Instead, a weird deflection in the middle of the park came to Arshavin, who played a gorgeous ball to the onrushing Walcott. Theo made no mistake in dinking it over the onrushing Adam Federici, and there was just that small sliver of hope heading into halftime.

That said, how there weren't three changes made at halftime, I'll never know. That was as astonishingly bad a half as our lads have played in living memory, and Arsene let the same 11 carry on. Absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me. It all could have blown up on us too, as Chamakh was lucky to not concede a penalty early doors in the second half. Hunt also had another chance that was just about dealt with by Martinez.

Arsenal slowly started to come into it though as Reading lost their way a bit. It seemed like they decided to bunker for the entire second half, and there were signs that this may be a bad strategy -  Theo hit the post, Gnabry missed one just wide and then we should have had a penalty/red card for a Gunter handball that went uncalled by Kevin Friend (who had a bit of a shocker, it has to be said).

Finally, after 62 minutes, the boss finally made changes. Frimpong and Gnabry were off, Thomas Eisfeld and Olivier Giroud on as we went more to a 4-4-2.

It paid immediate dividends, as Giroud netted seconds afterwards from a corner. It was Theo who played it in off a corner, and the Frenchman got enough on it to send it into the far corner. For the record, I wrote on my Facebook at this time: "Reading look panicked. Is the comeback on here?"

Indeed it was, eh?

Federici made a couple of decent stops to keep it at 4-2, and as it got past the 80th minute it looked like time would run out on the Gunners. Normal time had in fact almost expired before the Gunners got a corner. Reading were perhaps a bit guilty of assuming the game was won, as Koscielny made up for his earlier error by thumping in a free header with one minute left to go.

Still, who would have predicted what was to come next?

A Walcott miss in the 91st looked like our last shot, but time extended past the 4 minutes of injury time given due to a late Reading substitution. Somehow, in the 96th minute, Arsenal found a way to get the tying goal. A scramble in the Reading area resulted in a Walcott shot that went over the line, but I don't know if that was the one that was actually given. In the confusion, Jenkinson smashed it in just to be absolutely sure.

I mean, would you believe it?

It all could have gone pear-shaped though were it not for Martinez making up for his dreadful first half. Right from the beginning of extra time, had to be sharp to deny the substitute Jobi McAnuff from giving Reading a lead they probably would not have relinquished.

Instead, Arsenal would grab the advantage right before halftime in extra time. A loose ball came out to the much-maligned Chamakh. Admittedly, I expected nothing here. Instead, he hammered a daisy-cutter through the legs of Kaspars Gorkss and past the despairing dive of Federici.

I went mental. You went mental. I just wish we were all at the Pig to share this. Fuck you, Hurricane Sandy.

Miquel went off with a cramp, and Jernade Reade came on in his place. He couldn't be worse. Hell, Helen Keller shot with a tranquilizer dart couldn't be worse.

The second half of extra-time started with Walcott fluffing his lines when put in alone on Federici. I feared that may have cost us, as a 6-4 lead there would have probably killed off the home side. As it turned out, what looked like a game Arsenal would see out with no problem turned into a nightmare as Reading found an equalizer. The defense all shut off, and Pavel Pogrebnyak was left with a free header to get it to 5-5.

Despite how much I was keeping the faith before, I have to be honest with my fellow Gooners - I was sensing a loss on penalty kicks at this point.

That wasn't to be, thankfully, though it did look likely as it got to the 120th minute. The brilliant Arshavin had other ideas though, as he sashayed through the Reading defense before playing it off to Walcott for the easy tap-in. If that wasn't enough, a long ball eluded the Reading defense as they were pressing for their sixth, leaving Chamakh all alone to lob it over Federici and in.

I mean, what can you say about this? From the depths of despair to the highest of highs, and all with a lineup that will have almost nothing to do with who turns out at Old Trafford at the weekend. I said in the Coventry report that this competition is almost like a simulacrum of actual football, though in this case it resulted in a madcap result that hopefully will give both the club and us supporters a huge boost going into a season-defining match at the house of horrors that nearly destroyed us last season. 

If the first team has even 1/10th of the fighting spirit that the kids showed today, I think we may be OK.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:


Mannone 7, Santos 6, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 7, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7 (Walcott 6), Podolski 6 (Gervinho N/A [Arshavin 8]), Cazorla 6, Ramsey 7, Giroud 6

Man of the Match: Arshavin - he changed the game.


Martinez 6, Miquel 3 (Meade 7), Koscielny 5, Djourou 5, Jenkinson 7, Coquelin 6, Frimpong 6 (Giroud 7), Arshavin 7, Gnabry 6 (Eisfeld 7), Walcott 8, Chamakh 7

Man of the Match: Has to be Walcott.