Arsenal suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in their history as League Two minnows Bradford City clinched a stunning triumph on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the League Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The Gunners have endured a traumatic campaign that included their worst start to a Premier League campaign in manager Arsene Wenger’s 16-year reign, but this was a new low for a club now in the midst of a full-blown crisis.
Not even Arsenal’s most ardent critic would have believed they could produce such a spineless display against a team from English football’s fourth tier.
“They defended well and we all know what happened on the penalties. We had many, many chances and their keeper had a good game,” Wenger said.
“Whenever you go out it’s not a good result for Arsenal. We lost on penalties to a team who played very well. I cannot fault the effort of my team, we gave everything for the 120 minutes and you have to give credit to Bradford.
“It’s not a lack of quality. We’ll get over this, it’s part of our job. We’ll focus on the next game.”
Bradford manager Phil Parkinson added: “The lads were terrific, the discipline was first class against such a talented team like Arsenal.
“The talk will be about the penalties but the overall performance was excellent. The way the lads stuck at the task was a credit to them.”
After Bradford midfielder Garry Thompson took advantage of woeful Arsenal defending to volley home a free-kick at the far post in the 16th minute, Parkinson’s side must have expected to be tested to the limit by their illustrious opponents at Valley Parade.
But instead a strong Arsenal team took until the 88th minute to equalise when Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen headed home from a Santi Cazorla cross.
The Gunners were just as laboured in extra-time and they paid the price in the penalty shoot-out, which Bradford won 3-2 as Cazorla’s kick was saved by Matt Duke and Marouane Chamakh and Vermaelen both hit the post.
Bradford’s ninth successive penalty shoot-out victory booked their first ever appearance in the League Cup semi-finals.
In the night’s other quarter-final, Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert enjoyed a memorable return to Norwich as his side romped to a 4-1 win at Carrow Road.
Lambert, who quit the Canaries to take charge at Villa in an acrimonious close-season move, received a mixed reception from the Norwich fans on his first visit back to the club he led from League One to the Premier League.
But he could afford to ignore the jeers as two late goals from Andreas Weimann sealed victory for Villa after Brett Holman cancelled out Steve Morison’s opener for the hosts.
Christian Benteke bagged Villa’s fourth goal in stoppage time as the visitors moved a step closer to a Wembley final - Lambert showed good spirit by shaking his former players hands at the end of the match.
On Wednesday, Swansea host Middlesbrough in the third quarter-final, with Chelsea’s last eight trip to Leeds delayed until December 19 due to their particiption in the Club World Cup in Japan.