Words by Darius Ostovar
When Reading hosted Arsenal at the Madjeski Stadium in October 2012, very few expected the tie to be the blockbuster that produced arguably the greatest in the competition’s history.
With Arsene Wenger stating that the League Cup was at the bottom end of his priorities, little attention was given to the outcome of the game prior to kick-off. However, a vibrant start by the newly promoted Reading side hinted at a shock defeat compounded with utter humiliation.
The pace began and remained frantic throughout with Reading striking first with Jason Roberts sliding in for a tap in after 12 minutes. Six minutes later, Arsenal centre-half Laurent Koscielny diverted a low cross into his own net before, then inexperienced keeper, Martinez punched a venomous strike from Mikele Liegertwood into his own net.
By the 20th minute it was Reading 3-0 Arsenal and the early lacklustre performance from the Gunners suggested the score line was likely to only get worse. This fear was exacerbated as Noel Hunt made it 4 with a smart header across a flailing Martinez in the 38th minute. However, just before half-time and against the run of play, a brilliantly weighted ball by Andrey Arshavin set Theo Walcott through as he delicately lifted the ball over Reading keeper Adam Federeci.
The goal rejuvenated the Gunners in the second half, yet the mammoth challenge of overturning the three-goal deficit still remained. Olivier Giroud made it a less arduous task with a looping header in the 64th minute.
Yet with the clock winding down towards 88 minutes, the score remained 4-2 and a shock defeat seemed inevitable. However, the Gunners had other ideas as Koscielny made amends for his own goal in the first half to make it 4-3 setting the scene for dramatic climax. It certainly didn’t disappoint as Arsenal piled on the pressure on a visibly fatigued Reading side and managed to grab the equaliser deep into stoppage time to set up enticing 30 minutes of extra time.
The Gunners were the dominant team in extra time with chances coming from all angles and finally paying dividends towards the end of the first half. A low powerful drive from Marouane Chamakh found the bottom corner to give Arsenal the lead for the first time in the tie and the Moroccan his first goal in over a year.
Yet in the second half, Reading unexpectedly equalised through Pavel Progrebnyak who nodded home after a deflected cross from Robson-Kanu. With the game once again in the balance, Reading gained momentum and seemed the more likely to go on and win the game. However, a swift counter attack a minute into stoppage time, led to Walcott lashing home from a rebounded shot, three yards out.
Right at the death, a depleted Reading side were unable to deal with a clearance as Chamakh capitalised on the mistake and beautifully lobbed Federeci to end one of the most exhilarating domestic cup matches of modern times.
The tie has gone done as an all-time classic and broke numerous records in the process including the then most goals scored in a league cup tie as well as being the highest scoring game in Arsenal’s history. The game epitomised the stellar response of Wenger’s Arsenal team who, under his leadership, were able to effectively raise the standard of English football during his Premiership at the club.