Arsene Wenger chose this League Cup tie with Reading to try dress-down Tuesday, the Arsenal manager unusually rocking the casual look of trainers, tracksuit trousers and jacket. However, his patchwork team, while not at their stylish best, looked the part beating Reading – dressed in their own garish luminous strips that were the evening’s real fashion faux pas – 2-0 thanks to a brace from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Perhaps it is unfair to suggest Wenger’s choice of garbs reflect his attitude to the League Cup but he has not always been as determined to win it as other managers, preferring to use it to trial the youngsters. They did not let him down with teenagers Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles impressing as their club contemplate the quarter-finals.
While Wenger went casual, Reading’s manager Jaap Stam looked very serious: every bit the Bond villain dressed in black suit and black shoes as he prowled his technical area, the flood lights reflecting off his dome.
Regardless of what the Dutchman was wearing, Wenger would have just been delighted to see him on the touchline and not on the pitch where he caused the Frenchman some of his most acute migraines. Stam won three leagues in three years at Old Trafford: 1999, 2000 and 2001. Arsenal won the title either side of his arrival and his departure - which says it all. The famous 1999 Giggs FA Cup semi-final goal and the 6-1 mauling two years later must still pop up in Wenger’s nightmares.
There will be little to haunt Wenger from this match though, just food for thought. Reine-Adelaide, the 18-year-old from France, looks, as Wenger hinted in the match-day programme, ready for first-team action as he shone on the left.
Maitland-Niles, the 19-year-old from Ilford, looked comfortable in holding midfield too, even if his passing was sometimes erratic and his slight build may count against him on tougher nights. Another positive for Wenger – other than Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine performance - was Olivier Giroud’s first appearance of the season, the Frenchman coming on for the final 25 minutes and almost scoring.
Reading came into the fixture having lost only one of their previous seven away games but they were outclassed here. They rallied in the second half, Liam Kelly going close with a free-kick and admirably stuck to Stam’s plan of keeping the ball on the floor.
Arsenal bossed the first half, though, carving their opponents open far too often. On five minutes, Reine-Adelaide’s flick put the marauding Carl Jenkinson, playing his first Arsenal game for 898 days, through. The full-back is not one of life’s natural finishers and he shot straight at Ali Al-Habsi and headed the rebound over.
Moments later Iwobi put Oxlade-Chamberlain in on an angle but he fired across the face of goal when a pull-back may have been more productive. On 20 minutes Arsenal fashioned another chance, Oxlade-Chamberlain skipping down the right. The winger’s cross was half-cleared to Maitland-Niles on the edge of the box and, given far too much time, he bent an effort millimetres wide with Al Habsi helpless.
Lucas Perez, who had a poor evening before being hooked on 70 minutes, was then played in by Oxlade-Chamberlain but his square ball for Iowbi was woefully under-hit allowing Tennai Watson to clear.
Maitland-Niles then fired over after a clever interception and some nifty footwork on the edge of the Reading box.
The pressure told on 33 minutes but it was a brain fade from Al-Habsi that opened the door. From a goal-kick, the keeper tried to pass short to Joey Van Den Berg who had dropped deep to show for the ball. He tried a first time flick out wide but Oxlade-Chamberlain stole in, ran at Tyler Blackett and fired into the far corner. It had been coming but there was no need for Reading to gift wrap it.
Just before half-time Callum Harriott shot, the ball flicked of the ducking Gabriel and dropped agonisingly over the bar with Emiliano Martinez having gone to ground. It was as close as Reading came in the first 45 minutes.
Four minutes into the second half, Reading almost handed Arsenal their second goal, with Moore passing straight to Lucas who freed Oxlade-Chamberlain but his shot was deflected wide.
Giroud then almost scored when his header from a wicked Mohamed Elneny free-kick was well saved by Al-Habsi. Reading somehow bundled the ball clear from the ensuing melee.
Arsenal should have wrapped it up with 15 minutes to go when Oxlade-Chamberlain again got in but his shot was saved and Iwobi fluffed the follow up with the goal gaping. Iwobi then had a fierce drive from distance touched over the bar.
From the corner Oxlade-Chamberlain put the game to bed. The ball was half-cleared by Reading but worked back into the box by Rob Holding to Chamberlain. His cut-back was driven home – via a nick off Jordan Obita – by the 23-year-old.
Reading kept at it and Yann Kermorgant’s header was saved by Martinez but there was only ever going to be one winner. For Wenger, it was a comfortable night all round.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Martinez; Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs; Maitland-Niles, Elneny; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Zelalem 80), Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide (Giroud 65); Lucas (Willock 72). Substitutes not used: Bielik, Bola, Macey, Sheaf.
Reading (4-1-2-3): Al-Habsi; Watson (Gravenberch 68), Moore, Blackett, Obita; Kelly; Evans, Van den Berg (Quinn 80); McCleary, Samuel, Harriott (Kermogant 56).Substitutes not used: Swift, Wieser, Meite, Moore.
Attendance: 59, 865.
Referee: Graham Scott.
Man of the match: Oxlade-Chamberlain
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies