Fourth tier Bradford City stun Arsenal as they reach League Cup semifinals on penalties
Defeat of strong Arsenal side means club's quest for first trophy since 2005 continues
Aston Villa come from behind to win at Norwich and reach semis
Zlatan Ibrahimovic fires a treble as PSG rout Valenciennes
Arsenal’s stumbling season suffered a new low on Tuesday as the Gunners failed to reach the League Cup semifinals after being knocked out on penalties by fourth tier side Bradford City.
Having made their worst Premier League start since Arsene Wenger took charge in 1996, Arsenal needed a late equalizer to force extra-time – only to lose a dramatic penalty shoot-out as Bradford reached the last four for the first time in their 109-year history.
Wenger has often fielded weakened sides for League Cup matches but he sent out a strong team at Bradford where the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, with extra-time failing to provide further goals.
As they set about creating one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s long history, Bradford opened the scoring through Garry Thompson after 16 minutes.
Despite the presence of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski, the Gunners failed to register a shot on target until the final quarter of a match against a team from the bottom tier of the English football league.
Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen thought he had rescued his side when heading home after 88 minutes, but the Belgian later turned from hero to villain as he missed the decisive kick in the penalty shoot-out to spark wild scenes of celebrations.
“Whenever you go out, it’s not a good result for Arsenal,” said Wenger. “We lost on penalties to a team who defended well. I cannot fault the effort of my team, we gave absolutely everything for the 120 minutes and you have to give credit to Bradford.”
The win meant that Bradford, whose stadium was hosting its largest crowd since 1960, had set a British record of nine consecutive penalty shoot-out wins.
While the financially challenged club – who were playing in the Premier League eleven years ago – will celebrate the vital income that comes from reaching the competition’s semifinals, Wenger can expect ever greater scrutiny in a season that goes from bad to worse.
Many Arsenal fans were incensed when captain Robin van Persie was sold in August to traditional rivals Manchester United, with the league leaders now 15 points ahead of a team lying seventh in the Premier League after 16 rounds.
Wenger, who won three league titles between 1998-2004, angered some supporters earlier this year when stating his belief that it was more important for Arsenal to qualify for the lucrative Champions League than to win trophies.
Without a trophy since the FA Cup win in 2005, some Arsenal followers have lost patience as the gap between the club and rivals Manchester United and Manchester City grows – with one group of fans recently protesting before the home defeat by Swansea City at the manner in which the club is being run.
In the evening’s other League Cup quarterfinal, Aston Villa coach Paul Lambert enjoyed a return to Norwich City, the club he left in June, as the visitors came from behind to win 4-1.
Bradford and Aston Villa will be joined in the semis by Swansea City or Middlesbrough, who play on Wednesday, while the last quarterfinal will be known on 19 December when Leeds United host Chelsea, who are currently in Japan on Fifa Club World Cup duty.
In the Premier League itself, Sunderland eased the pressure on coach Martin O’Neill when beating Reading 3-0 at home to climb out of the relegation zone and up to 15th in the table.
In France, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged a hat-trick as Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-0 win at fifth-placed Valenciennes perfectly set up Carlo Ancelotti’s side for Sunday’s hosting of league leaders Lyon.
The former Barcelona and AC Milan star needed less than an hour to register a treble, and take his tally to an unsurpassed 17 Ligue 1 goals, before Ezequiel Lavezzi also struck as Valenciennes suffered their first home defeat of the season.
The win takes PSG to within two points of Lyon, who can extend their lead before the weekend’s top-of-the-table clash at the Parc des Princes when hosting bottom side Nancy on Wednesday.
PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti was under pressure one week ago, with his side having surrendered top spot in the league, but three consecutive wins have given the Italian some breathing space.
After beating Portuguese title-holders Porto 2-1 to win their Champions League group, the big-spending French side have since thrashed both Evian and Valenciennes 4-0.
Elsewhere, AS Roma beat Atalanta 3-0 to reach the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia.