Arsene Wenger admits it would have been a ‘disaster’ had Arsenal bowed out of this year’s League Cup to Reading on Tuesday.
Arsenal fought back from 4-0 down to force extra time and eventually triumph 7-5 at the Madejski Stadium after a truly remarkable contest defined by irresistible attacking and inept defending.
At the club’s annual general meeting last week the Frenchman ranked the League Cup fifth in his list of priorities, but after the match he said that to go out in such a manner would have been humiliating.
“It was not one of our priorities but had we gone out the way we could have gone out, it would not have been one of my proudest moments,” Wenger said.
“We went from disaster to giving ourselves at least some pride, because we came back with a decent performance.
“We had only hope that we would go through, but at least we got our first-half disasters out of our system.
“I felt for our fans because even at 4-0, they stayed behind the team. I would like to give them credit, and I’m happy that we paid them back in the second half.
“Once it was 4-4 I felt we would win the game, because Reading had given a lot, and were mentally down. We looked quite comfortable in extra time.”
Wenger knows first-hand the pain of losing a four-goal lead, having been pegged back to a 4-4 draw by Newcastle in February last year, and expressed his sympathy for Reading boss Brian McDermott.
“They had a fantastic start, and I know what it is to be pulled back when you’re 4-0 up,” he said.
“Reading should take credit from that performance, and maybe not be too disappointed.
“At 4-0, you think you have won the game. At 4-1, you still think you have won the game. At 4-2, you suddenly realise it isn’t over, and then the panic kicks in.
“It doesn’t matter how good a player you are, when that happens, it goes right through the team.”
The Gunners boss also took the opportunity to praise contract rebel Theo Walcott, who bagged a hat-trick to cap a man-of-the-match display.
“I always said he will be striker,” Wenger insisted. “He’s a good finisher now. He knows where to be on the rebounds. That is the quality of a striker you can’t give to someone, they either have it or they don’t.
“I want to keep him, and I think aside from the contract talks, you have to give him credit for the way he is committed to the team, and for the way he behaves.”
McDermott, meanwhile, said Reading paid the price for playing ‘kamikaze football’ in the 12-goal thriller.
After surging to a 4-0 lead in just 37 minutes, McDermott was devastated by his side’s collapse.
“I wasn’t happy at half-time,” he said. “To go in at 4-1 instead of 4-0 gave them impetus they didn’t need.
“We didn’t play in the second half. It was kamikaze football, even in extra time when we got to 5-5.
“To be 4-0 up and playing as well as we were, and then for them to turn it around like that, it’s embarrassing for all of us.
“We have to take it on the chin and we have to move on very quickly, because we can’t do anything about it now.”
The match officials decided on four minutes of injury time, but Walcott bundled home Arsenal’s equaliser in the 96th minute, and afterwards McDermott was at a loss to explain where the extra two minutes came from.
“He gave four minutes and Arsenal scored in the sixth,” the Royals boss said.
“You can understand giving an extra 30 seconds at the end, but two minutes on top of four … you can’t get the time as wrong as that, but he did.”