£70m Arsenal talent booted out of the League Cup by £7,000 League Two side Bradford
Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (Bradford win 3-2 on penalties). In a season of lows, Arsenal hit rock bottom last night with a humiliating exit from the quarter final of the League Cup. Victory was nothing less than the League Two side deserved, for on a raw night in a capacity Coral Windows Stadium, Bradford outplayed their illustrious visitors.
Garry Thompson volleyed Bradford ahead on 16 minutes as the Arsenal defence malfunctioned once again, and only a header from Thomas Vermaelen two minutes from time saved Arsenal’s blushes – temporarily.
Still all-square after extra-time, the match went to penalties and it was the Yorkshiremen who held their nerve as Vermaelen squandered his spot-kick.
As upsets go this was a big one, up there with the Gunners’ Cup defeats to Swindon in 1969 and Wrexham in 1992. In fact, this may have been the mother of all embarrassments because Arsenal travelled to Bradford – 64 places below them in the league structure – with a full-strength squad.
Manager Arsene Wenger fielded his first-team, a starting XI containing such seasoned internationals as Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho. There was approximately £70m worth of talent on display for the visitors, compared to the £7,000 it cost to assemble the Bradford squad.
In truth, however, only Jack Wilshere looked as if he wanted to win. The young midfielder was several paces ahead of his team-mates in mind and body, and the frustration on his face was plain to see as his deft passes all too frequently went to waste.
Worryingly for the Arsenal faithful, Podolski’s body language is beginning to resemble that of Andrey Arshavin, the Russian star who promised so much and delivered so little, while Gervinho continues to shame the name of every Arsenal centre-forward.
The man is simply not good enough to play for the Gunners but while the Arsenal fans know it, their manager continues to deploy him in a lone striker’s role. And Gervinho continues to miss glorious chances, as he did last night when he failed to prod the ball into an empty net from four yards in front of goal. You could practically hear the ghosts of Ted Drake, Frank Stapleton, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry, and every other Arsenal centre-forward down the years, groan in despair.
Arsenal had viewed the Capital One Cup as their best chance of silverware this season, but the defeat – coupled with the club’s poor Premier League campaign (they lie seventh, 15 points behind leaders Manchester United) – raises fresh questions about the future of Wenger.
Asked if he considered the result a humiliation, the Frenchman replied: “I don’t think this was a humiliation, no, you feel embarrassed when you don’t give everything, and I can’t fault the effort of my team because I believe we gave absolutely everything for 120 minutes… I feel we gave everything, and I don’t think we lacked quality, I just think we couldn’t take our chances in the end.”
Wenger refused to criticise his players, though he unintentionally damned them in admitting: “We played with basically five strikers but we couldn’t score and you have to say they defended very, very well.”
Which begs the question: if five Arsenal strikers can’t score against Bradford, what hope have they got against Barcelona or Bayern Munich, or any other team they could draw in the next round of the Champions League.
The defeat will ramp up the pressure on Wenger. Fan sites were already full of criticism but in the wake of last night’s embarrassment Arsenal supporters are demanding his head.
His fate could be decided over the Christmas period as the Gunners play five league games in the space of two weeks. First up are Reading on Monday, followed by matches against Wigan, West Ham, Newcastle and then Southampton on New Year’s Day. All of those teams are in the bottom half of the table and in days gone by the Gunners would have considered them cannon-fodder. But they could be the clubs that bring Wenger’s 16-year reign at Arsenal to an end.