Ox at the double as Arsenal cruise through 

Given Arsenal’s last League Cup tie with Reading produced 12 goals, a comeback from 4-0 down and even two goals for Marouane Chamakh, there was no way Arsenal’s 4th round EFL Cup tie against the Royals on Tuesday was likely to go in a similar way. Arsenal did field the same goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, who played in that crazy game four years ago, but he showed how he’s improved in that time with an assured display to keep a clean sheet. 
But most of the action, unsurprisingly, was at the other end as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored a brace to send the Gunners into the quarter-finals. Arsenal could, and should, have had more, but overall it was a satisfying night for Arsene Wenger as his rotated team got the job done, and players returning from injury got much-needed competitive minutes on the pitch.
The two goals take Oxlade-Chamberlain to five for the season, already his most prolific in his Arsenal career, and was his second and third goals in a week after netting against Ludogorets in the Champions League. In some ways, what is encouraging is that it still feels like there is a lot of room for improvement in his game, even with his increasing productivity in front of goal. There are still plenty of moments in matches where  he makes the wrong decision or holds onto the ball for too long, and if he can sharpen up that area of his game, there’s no reason why, having already got to five goals, he can’t go on and score 10 or even 15 this season if he can break into the starting XI regularly.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first goal owed a lot to his growing confidence as he received the ball just outside the box after a kamikaze short goal-kick from Ali Al-Habsi in the Reading goal. The Ox sized up the defender in front of him, jinked a little bit and fired across the goalkeeper perfectly into the far corner. Rather than dithering over the options he had available to him, he had a clear idea of what to do when he got control of the ball and executed it superbly. 
The goal came at a good time as Arsenal had dominated the match in the first half, so it settled any nerves down in a team that understandably lacked a bit of fluency at times because of the number of changes made, but still was comfortably on top in the game. 
The second goal of the evening came in the 78th minute and avoided any tension in the final knockings of the match. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s finish from the edge of the box was well struck and would have required a very good save to stop it, but Al-Habsi was left stranded as the ball deflected off a defender and flew into the net. That Oxlade-Chamberlain was able to get a shot off owed a lot to the work of Rob Holding to dribble to the by-line after a deep corner, and of Olivier Giroud to lay the ball off to the winger when he was in space on the edge of the box.
While the goals of Oxlade-Chamberlain were big positives from the evening for Arsene Wenger, the return of Olivier Giroud was also most welcome. Whatever you read into the slightly mysterious toe injury Giroud had, he’s definitely been missed in certain games as a different option up front. In general, the front four has operated brilliantly this season, but when things haven’t been going well, it would have been great to have the Frenchman available to mix things up. In his 25-minute cameo, Giroud immediately challenged the centre-backs and would have scored with a good header from a free-kick but for an excellent stop from Al-Habsi. He offers something completely different to anyone else in the squad, so it’s great to see him back.
The other returning player was Carl Jenkinson. When he went on loan to West Ham two years ago, and then again last season, I thought we’d never get to see him play for Arsenal again. But with Mathieu Debuchy just disappearing off the face of the earth, and Jenkinson back from a serious knee injury, he was back in the side on Tuesday. He might not be the most technically gifted player, but Arsenal could do a lot worse than him as the back-up right-back. For fans, it really feels like we’ve got a representative on the pitch when Jenkinson plays as he is living the dream for all of us that had Arsenal wallpaper and posters of the team on our walls growing up. For someone who hasn’t played a competitive game for nine months, and hasn’t played for the club since May 2014, he put in a good showing. Bellerin can’t play every game and I’d have no concerns about Jenkinson stepping in if required.
For the youngsters who made appearances, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Rheine-Adelaide were both good in possession and didn’t look out of place in the game. It will be interesting to see what the dynamic is like in the main Premier League starting XI is by the time the quarter-final with Southampton comes around at the end of November. It’ll come after a tougher run of fixtures including Spurs, Manchester United and PSG, so that will likely dictate if Wenger uses any of the more experienced players to try and get to the last four. If a similar line-up does play in the quarter-final, they’ll have a good chance of going through because the fringe and young players are feeding off the confidence that is building around the club at the moment, and they’ll be keen to keep this EFL Cup run going after scoring six and conceding none in the two games so far. 


Each season has a seminal moment

It’s ten years since the Invincibles season. Yes, I’m slightly horrified by that thought too. It makes me feel a bit old and only reinforces the fact Arsenal have been in a ‘transitional period’ for an uncomfortably long time. However, despite not winning the league since 2004, being an Arsenal fan isn’t dull or unexciting. In every season since that incredible unbeaten campaign, there have been matches that have made the season feel worthwhile.
Even if it’s just one or two matches a season, there have always been games that make you want to continue supporting the club because the moments of euphoria and excitement they bring about are nigh on impossible to recreate in any other situation in society.
It might seem strange to be thinking quite as deeply about this before a Capital One Cup third round match away to West Bromwich Albion. However, this competition last year produced my seminal moment for the 2012/13 season. Given that away match tickets can be like gold dust, going to Madejski Stadium to see Arsenal play Reading in the fourth round seemed like a great idea. At least it did until Arsenal were 4-0 down before half time.
The first 40 minutes of that match were the worst I’ve ever seen live from an Arsenal team. Fans were still adapting to the loss of Robin van Persie, and had things got worse in that match, the atmosphere could have become really volatile. However Theo Walcott pulled a goal back just before half time to give the away fans the faintest glimmer of hope. The talk amongst supporters was that the Walcott goal could be crucial by the end of the game, before we all laughed it off. Someone was overheard saying, “I’ve never been to one of these big comeback games.” Again, we all dismissed it as a random burst of optimism just to keep spirits up.
Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld entered the fray in the second half and changed the game. Eisfeld gave Arsenal control and creativity in midfield, whilst Giroud showed signs that he could become the player he now is. His excellent header halved the deficit to make it 4-2.
With two minutes of normal time left, most fans were fairly content to at least have avoided the completely humiliating result that seemed likely at 4-0. Then Koscielny headed in Walcott’s corner. 4-3 with four minutes of added time. One chance, Arsenal just needed one chance.
Walcott got the ball on the left side of the area, flashed it across goal and agonisingly wide. That was it, the away fans assumed that was the chance gone. That was until Jason Roberts took the art of slow jogging to new levels when he was substituted to waste time. The referee correctly added on the time for the substitution, and there were just enough seconds for Coquelin to pump the ball in the box, Chamakh to head it down, Walcott to have a shot that just crossed the line before Jenkinson stuffed it home anyway to make sure.
I’ve not known celebrations like it. Did I care that I might miss the last train out of Reading because of extra time? Not a chance. In the excitement of it all, one man near me got a split lip such was the pandemonium that ensued.
Extra time was just as exciting, with Arsenal going 5-4 up before being pegged back to 5-5. Having gone through the elation of coming back and taking the lead, to concede late on and head towards penalties was tough to take.
Then Laurent Koscielny intercepted the ball and Andrey Arshavin found his first proper burst of energy in about two years to speed towards goal despite playing 120 minutes of football. His shot was cleared off the line, but Theo Walcott slammed in the rebound to spark more mental celebrations. Everyone had forgotten it was a Capital One Cup fourth round match. This game had turned into its own epic. Everyone was caught up in the moment.
Incredibly, the celebrations were elongated when Marouane Chamakh broke away and lobbed the goalkeeper to complete the craziest game of football I’ve ever been to. 120 minutes, 7-5 winners having been 4-0 down.
That match at the Madejski was proof that any match has the potential to become a seminal moment. A moment that, whilst it doesn’t always compensate for winning trophies, is a memory you’ll remember for as long as you support the club. For some fans, because of that game, they will be making the journey to the West Midlands on Wednesday evening to watch Arsenal at the Hawthorns against West Brom. It could be a boring game, and with the changes Arsenal will make, they could go out. But, it might not be. That’s what keeps us going and supporting the Arsenal.
One man that is set to appear on Wednesday is Nicklas Bendtner. For all the negativity surrounding his return to the first-team fold, it’s easy to forget that he has provided Arsenal fans with one of those seminal moments from a season. Think 2007/08, the North London Derby against Tottenham. Bendtner came off the bench with the scores at 1-1, ran straight into the box and scored with his first touch to win the game.
That alone shows that even the unlikeliest people can have a hero in them.
Honestly, I’m not expecting too much from the West Brom game because of the patchwork team that Arsene Wenger is likely to field. However we shouldn’t discount the game and we shouldn’t discount Bendtner. A Capital One Cup tie in one of the early rounds might seem innocuous enough, but seminal moments can appear from anywhere. You don’t want to miss them when they do.