Theo Walcott rescues Arsenal from the brink to inspire unforgettable comeback against Reading

Reading 5 Arsenal 7 (aet)

It is easy to forget at the moment but football is one of the best things so far invented by man. Arsenal's collapse and then comeback, within 90 astonishing minutes of Capital One Cup football, ought to be how the 2012/13 season is remembered.

This game had 12 goals, four of them in extra time, a Theo Walcott hat-trick, two for Marouane Chamakh, and some of the best and worst football that either side will play this season. Arsenal scored in added time at the end of the first half, the second half and of extra time as they recovered from the worst first-half performance of the Arsène Wenger era.

It would be wrong to say this game had everything you might have hoped for. Who could have had the imagination to hope for this? Arsenal, as it happens, will be in the quarter-finals of the League Cup. But the stakes barely seem relevant when the game is this good.

This season's best contest started with its most one-sided 45 minutes. Reading started with hunger and purpose and focus. Arsenal played like confused strangers, looking lazy, clumsy and not fully worthy of their famous shirts. Reading blitzed Arsenal, taking a 4-0 lead that was as shocking as it was warranted. "I thought we were extraordinary," said Brian McDermott.

The first three goals came in an eight-minute spell. If it was not a brief nadir of the Wenger era it certainly looked like it. All of the goals were simple, purposeful and preventable. Hal Robson-Kanu crossed to Jason Roberts at the far post for the first. Laurent Koscielny turned in Chris Gunter's cross for the second. Mikele Leigertwood shot through Damian Martinez's fist for the third. After 16 quiet minutes Noel Hunt headed the fourth, from Garath McCleary's cross.

"We want our Arsenal back" sang the fans, seeing their silverware shots this season cut from two to one. "I don't remember a performance like that," Wenger said. "I did not feel great."

When Walcott scored with the last kick of the first-half, the 4,000 travelling fans cheered ironically. McDermott, who described it as the turning point, was not quite so jovial. "I wasn't happy. It made me uneasy."

Momentum is a powerful thing. The second half was a very different place. Suddenly Arsenal started to play, passing and moving, attacking the goal in front of their fans. There were some missed chances and Wenger turned to his bench, for Olivier Giroud and the 19-year-old Thomas Eisfeld.

In his second minute on the pitch Giroud headed in a corner. "At 4-2 you suddenly realise it is not over, the panic kicks in," explained Wenger. He must have recognised in Reading what he saw from Arsenal in the first half. "We didn't play," said McDermott. "It was suicide."

With one minute left Koscienly headed in a corner kick. The board went up, four minutes left. Four minutes passed, the game looked gone. But Chamakh flicked to Walcott who completed the recovery. Giroud and Francis Coquelin, presuming the game would be replayed, threw their shirts into the crowd.

Extra-time was manic. All 44 legs were tired but Arsenal had more in their hearts and they went ahead. Arshavin, had the ball on the edge of the box and set up Chamakh, the perfect hero on a night this strange, and his shot was beyond Adam Federici. Arsenal had the lead.

But it is difficult to impose order on chaos and Arsenal's attempts failed. With five minutes left Gunter's deflected shot flew to Pavel Pogrebnyak, who headed past Martinez. McDermott had his penalties list ready.

The board went up for the fourth time. Two minutes left in this two-hour epic. For the third time, Walcott answered it. Koscielny started a break, finding Arshavin, who shot. The ball broke to Walcott, who scored. Reading, naturally, pushed for 6-6. Arsenal cleared and Chamakh lobbed Federici. "You always see new things in our game," said Wenger. "That is why it is never boring."

Man of the match Walcott.

Match rating 10/10.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leics).

Attendance 23,980.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border