Bradford produced one of the biggest upsets in League Cup history as they defeated Arsenal 3-2 on penalties to progress to the semifinals following a 1-1 draw after extra time on Wednesday at Coral Windows Stadium.
Arsenal had looked likely to go on and secure victory after scoring a late equalizer in normal time through Thomas Vermaelen. But Arsene Wenger’s side failed to capitalize in extra time and Bradford hung on before recording an incredible ninth-straight penalty shootout victory after Vermaelen struck the woodwork.
The League Two side’s achievement, and Arsenal’s disappointment, is only enhanced by the fact that Wenger selected a near full-strength side for the trip to Bradford. It would be hard to begrudge Phil Parkinson’s side’s victory, though, after they led for much of the contest following Garry Thompson’s 16th minute strike.
Arsenal’s lack of attacking rhythm, evident for much of the season, was again on display as they struggled to stamp their authority against their opponents from England's fourth tier. Arsenal’s exit from the Capital One Cup means another opportunity to end their more than seven-year trophy drought has gone begging.
The theme for a memorable night in Bradford’s history was set early on as a free kick from the right received a near-post flick on from Will Atkinson. Unmarked at the back post, Thompson stretched to volley home first time high into the net from the corner of the six-yard box.
Arsenal tried to build some momentum as the half progressed, but failed to test Bradford goalkeeper Matt Duke. Francis Coquelin came whiskers away from pulling his side level with a low left-footed drive from 20 yards that struck the foot of the post.
In the 42nd minute Arsenal went closer still. Having moved the ball across the box, Kieran Gibbs was found on the left and drilled a low ball across the face of goal that just begged Gervinho to tap home, but somehow the Ivorian managed to side-foot a long way wide of the target.
But with all the action at one end, Bradford so nearly doubled their lead in the final minute before the break. James Hanson jumped above Per Mertescaker to flick the ball onto strike partner Nahki Wells and, with Vermaelen unable to get a foot in, the forward was able to strike at goal and look on in as the ball arrowed past the dive of Szczesny but also beyond the far post.
Despite their continued pressure after the break, Arsenal still lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Aaron Ramsey’s wayward effort from a fine Santi Cazorla pass typified Arsenal’s frustrations.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the 70th minute that Arsenal registered a shot on target as the just introduced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck a clean effort from 25 yards that forced Duke to dive and parry away from goal. Wilshere soon followed with a similar effort that Duke was forced to block as it became very much a case of one-way traffic in the final 15 minutes.
Bradford had hung on valiantly, but Arsenal’s pressure finally told against the home side’s tiring legs with just over three minutes remaining.
Cazorla’s corner was headed back out to the Spaniard, who at the second time of asking picked out an unmarked Vermalen at the back post and, from a standing position, the center back made no mistake in heading into the back of the net.
As normal time expired, Cazorla came close to deciding the tie with a fierce free-kick followed by a follow-up effort, both of which were well saved by the excellent Duke.
As expected, extra time was played almost entirely in the Bradford half as Arsenal desperately tried to decide the tie without the need for penalties.
As so often, Wilshere again tried to provide the impetus as he progressed to the edge of the area before exchanging passes with Chamakh, but trying to get the ball onto his left foot, the midfielder failed to get an effort in on goal.
The sense that it was not to be Arsenal’s night perhaps registered as Cazorla struck a wickedly swerving left-footed strike form close to 30 yards that beat the dive of Duke but came crashing back off the cross bar.
The rest of the period was summed up by a disagreement between Chamakh and Oxlade-Chamberlain as another final pass was misplaced. The contrasting emotions of the two sets of players and coaching staffs were there for all to behold as the final whistle went and the match went to penalties.
Not only were Arsenal facing the drama of penalties to avoid a historic upset, but they were also taking on a side with a remarkable recent record in shootouts and had beat Wigan on penalties in the last round.
Arsenal were behind from the off in the shootout as Cazorla’s penalty was saved at a nice height by Duke diving to his left and Chamakh followed upwith an almost hesitant run up and penalty that struck the inside of the post and bounced clear.
Arsenal were given a reprieve as Stephen Darby failed to put Bradford 3-0 up as he put the ball too close to Szczesny. And, after Oxlade-Chamberlain kept Arsenal alive, Richie Jones missed the opportunity to send Bradford through as his tame penalty was saved by Szczesny.
But it was just to be a temporary reprieve for Arsenal, as Vermaelen struck the foot of the woodwork to cue wild celebrations among the majority of the record crowd at Valley Parade and surely also instigate intense incriminations from both inside and outside the Arsenal dressing room.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.