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It has been that kind of a year for Arsenal, its manager, players and fans, and on Tuesday night it got a hell of a lot worse. Arsene Wenger in his 16 years as Manager of Arsenal Football Club had never lost a match to a team in the fourth division of English Football, 8 years ago, the mere idea of it would have been unthinkable. On Tuesday night though, Arsenal's best chance of ending their long trophy drought ended at a packed Valley Parade as Bradford City pulled off an upset of incredible proportions, beating Arsenal 3-2 on penalties after the match had finished 1-1 following 120 minutes of play.
While Arsenal will rue their missed chances, particularly having hit the post twice in open play and twice also in the penalty shootout, that fact of the matter is that a club of their size should never be losing to a League 2 team. Mind you take nothing away from the performance of Bradford, who were simply magnificent, but the Gunners have a lot of soul searching to do after another poor night of football.
To his credit for once, Arsene Wenger showed his desperation at ending his team's long drought and his desire to string together a few wins in his team selection. There were just 3 changes to the side that played against West Brom at the weekend, and as promised he put out a very much first choice eleven against Bradford, rejecting the opportunity to give the likes of Jernade Meade and Thomas Eisfeld a goal.
Wojciech Szczesny started in goal behind Arsenal's first choice back four of Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs. There were changes in midfield as Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin came into the side with Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench. Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla ensured some continuity, while Lukas Podolski and Gervinho completed a very strong Arsenal line-up, picked for the sole purpose of taking Arsenal through to their 15th League Cup semi-final.
Amazingly though Arsenal came into this game with a very poor record at Valley Parade, not having won here since the 1920s, of course the two sides had spent plenty of time in other divisions to mean they didn't play here all too often. There was a packed house in excess of 23,000 at the ground for the first time this season with the ticket proceeds expected to go a long way towards eliminating the debt of a side that had gone into administration twice in the last decade.
Arsenal started the brighter, with skipper Thomas Vermalaen missing a free header early on, but it was Bradford who found themselves ahead of 16 minutes. Nakhi Wells had won himself a free-kick on the right off Vermaelen, and Garry Thompson was at hand to volley the ball home at the back post to send Valley Parade into delirium. Szczesny got a hand on the shot, but could only divert it into his own net.
After an indifferent period of play for the Gunners where Bradford striker James Hanson was making a nuisance of himself in the air and Wells was teasing the defence with his pace, Arsenal finally started to get their passing game going again. Francis Coquelin got the better of Matt Duke in the Bradford goal, only to be denied by the base of the post. A little over 5 minutes later, Gervinho slid in attempting to tap Kieran Gibbs' cross into an open net, but couldn't quite get a foot on the ball.
Arsenal were poor in the second half with passes going astray, and their players being put on continuous pressure by a Bradford side that could smell a famous scalp. Arsene Wenger threw on reinforcements, bringing on Marouane Chamakh, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky, but not really tinkering with his formation of ever leaving two forwards on the pitch in an attempt to really go for it.
Jack Wilshere had a stinging drive saved by Duke, while Oxlade-Chamberlain missed a good opportunity to score, losing his footing on the icy-surface, and it looked for all money that it just wasn't going to be Arsenal's night.
The Gunners were perhaps a little fortunate to send the game into extra time, having not really deserved it on the balance of play. Thomas Vermaelen heading Arsenal level from a Santi Cazorla corner with just 2 minutes of normal time remaining.
Arsenal ended the second half strongly with Matt Duke twice denying Cazorla a winner, and the Gunners carried that momentum into extra time. It was all Arsenal in the 30-minutes of time added on with Kieran Gibbs the latest Arsenal player to be denied by Duke, before the young left-back missed a header from Chamakh's cross.
The Moroccan international himself came close from a Cazorla corner early in the second half and a minute later the Spaniard smashed a long distance drive against the crossbar. Bradford though held on for dear life to force the match to penalties.
The Yorkshire club came into this match on the back of an amazing record of having won 8 consecutive penalty shootouts dating back to October 2009, and they started perfectly with Nathan Doyle beating Szczesny in goal.
Santi Cazorla took Arsenal's first spot kick, and Matt Duke obligingly made the save as Valley Parade erupted for the third time on the night. Gary Jones then made it 2-0 for Bradford, and it stayed that way as Chamakh's penalty hit the post to leave Arsenal in a world of trouble.
Szczesny saved Stephen Darby's penalty and Jack Wilshere converted to keep Arsenal in the hunt. Perfect spot-kicks from Alan Connell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain followed to make it 3-2 for Bradford.
Szczesny saved Ritchie Jones' poor effort to save Arsenal's bacon, but skipper Thomas Vermaelen hit the post, meaning Arsenal went out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage at the hands of an ecstatic Bradford City.
While Bradford no doubt deserve credit for their Herculean effort, Arsenal's inability to beat a League 2 side while playing what was largely a first choice team speaks volumes about their lack of quality this season, and if reinforcements do not arrive in plenty in January, Arsenal could well miss out on the Champions League next season.
Bradford: Duke, Darby, McHugh, McArdle, Meredith, Thompson, Doyle, Gary Jones, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells.
Subs: McLaughlin, Ravenhill, Ritchie Jones, Connell, Hines, Turgott, Good.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Cazorla, Ramsey (Rosicky 69'), Wilshere, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlin 69'), Coquelin (Chamakh 60'), Gervinho.
Subs: Mannone, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Squillaci, Jenkinson, Chamakh.
Score: Bradford 1-1 Arsenal (Thompson 16', Vermalaen 88')
Braford: Doyle (scored), G Jones (scored), Darby (miss), Connell (scored), R Jones (miss)
Arsenal: Cazorla (miss), Chamakh (miss), Wilshere (scored), Oxlade-Chamberlain (scored), Veramaelen (miss)
File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel
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