On 31st October, Reading met Arsenal in the Fourth Round of the League Cup in what turned out to be one of the most remarkable games in recent years.
Finishing 5-7 in Arsenal’s favour after extra time, the game saw Reading lose a four goal lead as The Gunners stormed back into contention in the second half. In an attempt to better understand and explain the significant changes in momentum that took place over the 120 minutes, our analysts have broken the game down into manageable segments in order to assess the underlying patterns that contributed to such an extraordinary result.
1-11 Minutes: Reading 0-0 Arsenal (Reading 0-0 Arsenal)
Despite ultimately finishing the first half 4-1 down, Arsenal started the game particularly brightly and enjoyed 68.5% possession during the opening 10 minutes. Completing 45 passes to Reading’s six over the same period, Arsene Wenger’s side clearly tried to seize the initiative early on.
However, despite Arsenal’s early dominance of the ball, the North London club didn’t convert their possession into clear attacking opportunities. Making just nine passes in the final third, Arsenal seemed content to use their control of the game to stretch Reading and tire their opponents instead of focussing on chance creation.
12-20 Minutes: Reading 3-0 Arsenal (Reading 3-0 Arsenal)
Having survived Arsenal’s early dominance, Reading made incredibly efficient use of possession as soon as they settled and began to see more of the ball. Indeed, the first time Brian McDermott’s team strung three passes together, they scored the opening goal of the game.
Applying pressure on Arsenal through some extremely effective pressing, Reading forced the visitors into losing the ball in the defensive third on 10 occasions between the 12th and the 20th minutes. Benefitting from the momentum generated by Jason Roberts’ goal, Reading began to dictate the shape of the game, using direct football (60.9% of their passes were made in a forward direction) to put the Arsenal defence under sustained pressure.
Playing the ball wide in the final third, Reading attempted 10 crosses during this period, Roberts converting one and another leading directly to Laurent Koscielny’s own goal after 18 minutes. Direct but highly accurate in their passing (90.5% completion rate from 12-20 minutes), it was this spell of frantic attacking football that set the general tone for the rest of the game.
21-34 Minutes: Reading 0-0 Arsenal (Reading 3-0 Arsenal)
Reeling after conceding three goals in 10 minutes, Arsenal re-established their control of possession as the half-hour mark approached. With Reading seemingly happy to sit on their lead, The Gunners recorded 73% possession during this period as they attempted to rebuild.
Attempting 24 passes from 21-34 minutes, Francis Coquelin was central to Arsenal’s attempts to slow the game down and retain the ball in midfield. However, attempts to drive the team forward were less successful, with Arsenal losing the ball 22 times in the final third as their attack struggled in the face of a Reading defence that prove effective at winning the ball back in dangerous areas.
An exercise in damage prevention for Arsenal, Wenger’s side did well to calm the game down during this period, but found themselves frustrated by an opponent that backed up its clinical finishing with a strong defensive performance in the first half.
35-40 Minutes: Reading 1-0 Arsenal (Reading 4-0 Arsenal)
Despite having been briefly becalmed by Arsenal, Reading raised the frequency of their attacks as the end of the half approached. Enjoying 52% possession between the 35th and 40th minutes, The Royals entered the final third 10 times and scored from their only shot on target (Noel Hunt’s header from a Gareth McCleary cross) during the same period.
Getting the ball forward quickly and flooding the Arsenal back four, Reading played in a manner well suited to exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents, but the visitors were perhaps unfortunate to suffer at the hands of a team enjoying a freakish level of efficiency in front of goal.
41-45+ Minutes: Reading 0-1 Arsenal (Reading 4-1 Arsenal)
After being on the back foot for 40 minutes, Arsenal finally began to offer some attacking penetration in the final stages of the first half as they made 10 passes in the centre of the final third. Taking six shots in the final five minutes, four of which came after passing sequences longer than 16 seconds, Arsenal’s play was a sign of things to come in the second half.
Playing with much more intent than they had done previously, Arsenal finally broke the Reading back line after a poor defensive header handed The Gunners possession. Theo Walcott was duly put through on goal to finish and give his team a glimmer of hope going into the break. Combining their possession-based style with offensive incision, the closing stages of the first half saw Arsenal properly hit their stride for the first time in the game.
45-64 Minutes: Reading 0-1 Arsenal (Reading 4-2 Arsenal)
Arguably the highest-quality period of the entire game, the 20 minutes after the break saw both teams create a number of good chances. Three of Arsenal’s four shots during this time came from passing sequences of more than 12 seconds (one coming from a 33 second attacking move), with both sides creating opportunities inside the penalty area.
It was during this 20 minute period that Emmanuel Frimpong came to the fore, completing seven of his eight forward passes and enabling Arsenal’s attackers to break into gaps in the Reading defence. Similarly, Mikele Leigertwood made a strong impact for the home side, regaining possession 12 times and preventing Arsenal from turning their growing dominance into more than just the one goal (Giroud in the 64th minute) between 45 and 64 minutes.
65-75 Minutes: Reading 0-0 Arsenal (Reading 4-2 Arsenal)
The period of greatest dominance for Arsenal, Wenger’s side recorded 64 passes to Reading’s eight as they attempted to stretch the game with medium and long range passing. Despite not threatening the Reading penalty area, these 10 minutes saw Arsenal clearly dictate the pace of the game. However, credit should again go to the hosts for restricting The Gunners to just four shots, all of which were taken from outside the box.
76-90+ Minutes: Reading 0-2 Arsenal (Reading 4-4 Arsenal)
The period in which Arsenal dramatically got back on terms, the final 15 minutes of normal time saw the visitors concentrate their passes down the left side (40.4% of passes involved left-back Ignasi Miquel) and put Reading’s Chris Gunter under constant pressure.
Although Arsenal showed more attacking intent than Reading in the latter stages, the home side impressively maintained 47.7% possession despite being under pressure to defend. Efficient at getting men behind the ball to limit opportunities (3 Arsenal shots were blocked in the last 15 minutes), Reading did well to prevent an all-out onslaught by Wenger’s side.
However, despite the best efforts of McDermott’s side, the pressure down the left (Arsenal’s third and fourth goals came from balls played from that side) ultimately proved too much to handle.
1-13 Minutes: Reading 0-1 Arsenal (Reading 4-5 Arsenal)
Buoyed by their stunning late comeback, Arsenal carried their second half dominance into extra time, having 69% possession and forcing Reading to make 15 tackles in the opening 13 minutes of the extra period (they only made 34 in the original 90 minutes).
Building from the back, The Gunners’ control was demonstrated by the flowing 12-pass move to set up Chamakh’s driven effort that put Arsenal ahead for the first time. Reading were still able to carve out two shots, but their grip on the game was significantly weakened during this phase of the game.
14-26 Minutes: Reading 1-0 Arsenal (Reading 5-5 Arsenal)
Impressively keeping themselves in the game despite the apparent momentum being with Arsenal, Reading rallied during the second period of extra time. Making 47 passes to their opponents’ 46, The Royals fashioned seven crosses either side of the break, six of which were successful and one leading to Pavel Pogrebnyak’s 116th minute equaliser.
27-30+ Minutes: Reading 0-2 Arsenal (Reading 5-7 Arsenal)
With both teams exhausted, the game became extremely open in the dying minutes. Winning the ball 13 times in the defensive third in the final three minutes, Arsenal were able to break out of defence and exploit the huge spaces around the field.
Scoring twice on the counter-attack, Arsenal’s clinical late finishing was befitting of a game where 12 of 48 shots were converted. Transferring the ball from the edge of their own penalty area to the opposition six yard box in just 12 seconds, The Gunners’ offensive speed proved just too much for Reading so late in such a dramatic game.
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