Arsene put his faith in youth for the visit of Reading in the EFL Cup. Emiliano Martinez started behind a back four of Carl Jenkinson (welcome back corporal), Gabriel, Rob Holding, and Kieran Gibbs. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was paired with Mohamed Elneny behind a front four of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Jeff Reine Adelaide, and Lucas. Olivier Giroud started on a very inexperienced bench.
The young Arsenal side started well enough and with just over five minutes on the clock there could have been a dream return for Jenkinson. On a foray into the Reading box he tried a snap shot that Al Habsi parried back into his path and then headed the rebound over the crossbar from close range. Two minutes later Al Habsi had to be quick off his line to deny Lucas before Oxlade-Chamberlain hammered an effort just wide of the mark.
Next to go within a whisker of opening our account was young Maitland-Niles who curled an effort narrowly wide of the far post from twenty yards. Reading’s first effort followed but Obita’s long range provided Martinez with a simple save diving to his right. We missed a golden opportunity when Lucas was put clear but the Spaniard attempted to set up Reine-Adelaide, underhit the pass, and Reading scrambled it clear.
Iwobi was next to try his luck from distance but again the ball steered clear of the far post before Maitland-Niles drove one over the bar. The goal was surely coming, and it did when the Ox wriggled his way into the right side of the box. He finished with a fine angled drive through the legs of Blackett and just inside the left hand post.
Arsenal 1-0 Reading
Two minutes before the break we were inches from being pulled back to level when Harriott’s deflected effort found the roof of the net but thankfully over rather than under the bar. It was a warning that we needed to convert more of our very promising approach play into goals. I’m sure Arsene and Steve Bould would have quietly emphasised the point during the interval.
We were again on the front foot at the start of the second-half. It doesn’t seem to matter which eleven Gunners play where, as all are coached in the style and formation that the first team is expected to play with. First the Ox, then Lucas were denied by blocks as the Gunners streamed forward. We were exposed to a counter-attack when Gibbs dithered but the skipper for the night recovered to retrieve the situation.
The Giroud chant started up as thoughts of those watching turned to what might be a crucial second goal, but it was Reading who sent on their main French striker, Kermorgant, to sniff out an equaliser. On the hour his towering header brought the best save of the night from Martinez. Giroud sprinted up and down the touchline hoping to remind Arsene that he was there and ready.
Finally the change was made with Reine-Adelaide making way to a warm round applause and Giroud getting heartily cheered back into action. Lucas switched to the left to free up his position. Reading responded by sending on Gravenberch, a defender with the girth of an American football linebacker, who somehow avoided a caution for launching his not unconsiderable weight upon Lucas’ ankle. Chris Willock replaced the stricken striker a couple of minutes later following a fine Al Habsi save from a powerful close range Giroud header.
We should have sealed it when Oxlade-Chamberlain was put through only to drive too close to Al Habsi, and unfortunately Iwobi was unable to control and finish the goalkeeper’s parried save. When McLeary cynically chopped down the Ox a minute later the referee finally produced the yellow card that we feared he had left at home. Iwobi was next to draw a save out of the experienced Al Habsi, and the tension was released when the Ox took Giroud’s lay-back and drove a ferocious deflected drive into the net.
Arsenal 2-0 Reading
The double goalscorer was withdrawn to a standing ovation to allow a cameo appearance for the Danny Karbassiyoon scouted Gedion Zelalem. Suddenly the young Guns keep-ball was a welcome and not unattractive option. There might have been a sting in the tail but Martinez produced another first-class save diving to his left to claw out a Kermogant free-kick which came through a veritable forest of bodies.
Arsene will feel some satisfaction that his young second string have beaten seasoned Championship campaigners. He will have lessons to work on with them but they achieved a good win and a clean sheet. Thousands of Arsenal supporters who could not normally attend matches at the Grove were treated to seeing their team win in the flesh for a tenner. All in all a good night, don’t you think?