Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain helps Arsenal ease past Reading
Arsene Wenger a step closer to a maiden League Cup after easy Emirates win
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s brace helped Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Readnig. Photograph: Reuters
Arsenal 2 Reading 0
To Arsène Wenger, it remains one of the “craziest games” of his 20-year Arsenal career. When his team beat Reading 7-5 at the Madejski Stadium in the League Cup four years ago, it was an occasion that tested the boundaries of belief. It is possible there may never be another game quite like it and, on this occasion, Wenger could content himself with victory over the same opponents and by the same margin but with rather less of a frenzy.
As he had in the previous round against Nottingham Forest, the Arsenal manager played his second string and it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who made the difference. The winger scored both goals – the first, a vicious low shot after a Reading defensive breakdown; the second, another fierce strike that deflected off Jordan Obita – and, all of a sudden, Arsenal are into the quarter-finals.
Jaap Stam, the Reading manager, enjoyed a few battles with Wenger when he was a Manchester United player. His debut came in the Charity Shield defeat to a Nicolas Anelka-inspired Arsenal in 1998 while he was a part of the United team who edged the famous 1999 FA Cup semi-final. There was to be no fairytale for him here. Reading were neat and tidy but never truly threatened to record a first win over Arsenal at the 14th time of asking.
The 7-5 had framed this tie and it had been hard to blot out the memories, even if Reading’s fans may have wanted to do so. Their team had led 4-0 after 37 minutes that night only to concede twice after the 89th minute for 4-4 and extra time. Arsenal would score twice after the 120th minute to snatch the win.
It was a more laid-back here, with Wenger in dress-down mode, rocking the tracksuit and trainers, and both teams striving for control in patient fashion. Stam may be remembered as a no-holds-barred central defender but he is from the Dutch school and, in his first season as a manager, he has made it clear he wants Reading to play out from the back, and along the ground.
Stam’s starting side could best be described as three-quarter strength, with a clutch of regulars either on the bench or left out entirely. There had been five changes from the 1-0 win at Rotherham United on Saturday. Wenger rotated even more heavily. Only Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi had survived from the team who started the 0-0 home draw with Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Opportunity was the theme – or the imperative to take it – and Arsenal’s fringe players came to call the tune in the first-half. They had hinted at the breakthrough goal but when it came, it owed much to Reading error; it was an example of what can happen when the best of intentions go wrong.
Joey van den Berg came short for an Ali Al-Habsi goalkick but it felt like a risk for the goalkeeper to play it to him. Van den Berg felt the pressure from the red shirts coming towards him and he could do nothing more than flick the ball in the direction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who collected it and darted into the area. Tyler Blackett did not get close to him and Oxlade-Chamberlain fizzed a low shot into the far corner.
Arsenal had other chances and none was clearer than the one on 22 minutes, after Oxlade-Chamberlain had sent Lucas Pérez clean through. He opted to square for Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who might have had a tap-in only the pass for him was undercooked. Tennai Watson got back to make the saving tackle.
Carl Jenkinson, making his first appearance for Arsenal since May 2014, worked Habsi in the early stages while Ainsley Maitland-Niles curled narrowly off-target. Reading were second best and the only moment that quickened the pulses of the travelling support came when Callum Harriott’s shot hit Gabriel and looped just over the crossbar.
Stam sent on Yann Kermorgant and the striker’s first involvement was to leap and head powerfully at goal. Emi Martínez dived to his right and clutched the ball. Earlier, Kieran Gibbs had made a vital interception to cut out a Garath McCleary through ball. They were only flickers but, at 1-0, Reading still remained in the cup tie.
Arsenal turned the screw. The substitute, Olivier Giroud, on to a tremendous roar, drew a marvellous save out of Habsi and, from the rebound, when the ball hit another substitute, Danzell Gravenberch, and flew towards the Reading goal, Liam Moore headed off the line.
Iwobi messed up a rebound after Habsi had denied Oxlade-Chamberlain and then had a blast tipped over the bar.
Arsenal were getting closer and Oxlade-Chamberlain moved the tie beyond Reading when he struck following Giroud’s layoff from the byline. Reading were denied a consolation when Martínez made a double save from Liam Kelly and Dom Samuel.