LONDON – (AFP) – Arsenal’s 7-5 victory against Reading was on Wednesday hailed as the greatest comeback in League Cup history, after the Gunners overturned a 4-0 deficit to secure a place in the quarter-final draw.
The Times newspaper called the 12-goal thriller on Tuesday “The Miracle at the Majedski” while the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent said: “This was one of the craziest of cup ties, Mad Stad living up to its nickname.”
The Sun tabloid went further, describing the victory at Premier League strugglers Reading’s Majedski Stadium as “the greatest ever escape” in the history of the competition.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was also full of praise for his side and assessed that the victory was one of the best of his long career.
“We went from disaster to saving our pride,” Wenger said. “The fans stayed behind the team throughout and I have to give them credit. It was difficult to be worse in the second half than we were in the first.
“Maybe this is one of my greatest victories. You cannot play for Arsenal and give up, no matter what the score.
“This (tournament) is not one of our priorities but if we had gone out the way we played in the first half, it would not have been one of my proudest moments as well.
“But this was like a tennis game. It’s important to win and to be in the hat for the quarter-final.”
Arsenal head to Manchester United on Saturday, when they will return to the scene of one their most embarrassing scorelines in recent memory.
Wenger’s side suffered an 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford last season and there seemed to be danger of history repeating itself against Reading, even though Wenger had fielded a largely second-string side.
They were 4-0 down before Walcott replied on the stroke of half-time.
But with the Gunners appearing to only have pride to play for, Oliver Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Carl Jenkinson all struck to send the tie into extra time.
Giroud and Francis Coquelin even threw their shirts into the away end at the full-time whistle as they thought a replay was on the cards but that moment of farce only added to the drama on an extraordinary night.
It was not over there, as Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh and Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak swapped goals before Walcott and Chamakh killed off Reading for good deep into extra time.
Walcott, who is at the centre of a contract dispute, was himself unsure whether he had scored a hat-trick, despite walking off with the match ball.
“I’d love to have goal-line technology to get the hat-trick but if they’ve not given it, then well done Carl (Jenkinson)!” he said. “I’ll have to give the ball back to the referee!”
“Walcott did very well,” added Wenger. “I know he is a great player and many players did well. Theo scored goals and was efficient. He wasn’t the only one.”
Walcott urged his Arsenal team-mates to build on the victory before heading to Old Trafford.
“Hopefully we can take that into the Premier League,” he said. “We were good going forward, but maybe we were not great defensively at times. But we showed everyone what we can do and showed our character.”
Reading are yet to win in the Premier League this season and this collapse will do nothing to boost their confidence ahead of Sunday’s trip to bottom-placed Queens Park Rangers.
However, Reading manager Brian McDermott says the result against Arsenal will have no bearing on that or any future league games.
“It was suicide, what went on in the second half and extra time,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable, even being 4-1 up, and I don’t know why. I just had that feeling. They hurt us and we didn’t play.
“But it has nothing to do with the league. You play each game on its merits. But I’ve never seen anything like it at Reading. It was extraordinary.”