By Liam Twomey at the Madejski Stadium
Brian McDermott called it "extraordinary". Arsene Wenger dubbed it "a miracle". Yet despite the sincerest efforts of both men, the sense remains that the 12-goal thriller witnessed at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening defies apt description with mere words.
It was, in a sense, that rare kind of spectacle which cannot be believed until it has been seen; a wonderful farce in which excitement, surrealism and ineptitude walked hand-in-hand.
Reading surged into a four-goal lead, yet soon found themselves largely overrun for the best part of an hour. Laurent Koscielny scored at both ends. Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts into the crowd at the end of 90 minutes, thinking it was all over. And Marouane Chamakh scored two expertly taken goals.
Both sides could have made a reasonable case for having deserved to win, but neither could have had too many complaints about succumbing to defeat.
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Reading were repressive and rampant, smothering the visitors with the intensity of their play and wisely subjecting a decidedly second-string back four to a barrage of accurate deliveries from all angles. In the cases of Jason Roberts and Noel Hunt their finishing was clinical too but, when it was not, the likes of Koscielny and Damian Martinez were more than happy to help.
To accompany the punishment their team were meting out on the pitch, Royals fans taunted the travelling Arsenal contingent with chants of "Robin van Persie, he's laughing at this". The sound of the Dutchman’s name appeared to remind everyone from north London of the dire need for a leader to emerge in this moment of crisis, and Theo Walcott duly stepped into the breach.
Tipped for superstardom at the age of 16, Walcott has arguably garnered more critics than apologists during his time with the Gunners. His lightweight frame and apparent penchant for blind alleys have fuelled the perception that he is an athlete who has been trained to play football, rather than a footballer who also happens to be a supreme athlete.
But, in the midst of it all, there have been flashes of something more. The hat-trick for England in Zagreb. That sensational solo run to set up Emmanuel Adebayor during Arsenal’s titanic Champions League quarter-final clash with Liverpool in 2008. That virtuoso performance in the 7-1 victory over Blackburn back in February.
Now 23, Walcott has still yet to add consistency to his considerable armoury. When he plays with confidence and conviction, however, few can deny he is a force of nature.
On Tuesday night he rose to the challenge of leading Arsenal back from the brink, scoring the first and last goals of their remarkable comeback in normal time, and netting the decisive sixth a minute away from a penalty shootout to give his side a lead they never relinquished.
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As he lapped up the adulation of the crowd at the end of Tuesday's titanic clash, one could not help thinking it would be bitterly disappointing yet utterly unsurprising if Walcott were to follow Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Van Persie out of the Emirates exit door just as he finally shows signs of maturing into the player Wenger always hoped he could become.
For the Arsenal fans and their manager, such concerns were shunted firmly to the periphery as they revelled in finally emerging on the right side of a madcap scoreline. At 4-0 down, the odious spectre of that 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford loomed briefly on the horizon, while a repeat of the high-scoring draws experienced with Newcastle and Tottenham in recent years were a more persistent threat.
Despite the timely positives of goals and character, Tuesday's goal-fest also provided yet another reminder of why silverware remains tantalisingly out of reach for Wenger’s men. The last time Reading scored five goals was in a Championship clash with Middlesbrough in March of last year. One strongly suspects a better team would not surrender such a monumental lead so easily.
Yet perhaps trying to draw too many conclusions from Tuesday night’s events at the Madejski is a fool's errand. Sometimes all there is to do is sit back and enjoy the show.
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