Phil Parkinson’s League Two players did not just beat Arsenal in this Capital One Cup quarter-final, for much of this match they outplayed Arsene Wenger’s woeful Gunners to reach a first ever semi-final.
The spot-kick specialists won their ninth successive penalty shoot-out 3-2 after Thomas Vermaelen struck the post. The Arsenal skipper had earlier appeared to rescue the Gunners with a header three minutes from normal time to equalise Garry Thompson’s first-half volley.
But keeper Matt Duke defied the Premier League side to send the tie to a shoot-out — and glory for Bradford.
The defeat in sub-zero temperatures, and another failure in Arsenal’s seven-year quest for silverware, will chill the veins of Wenger as he contemplates the season so far.
In contrast, for Bradford it was a night of unbridled joy and Parkinson hopes his club, who were in the Premier League a decade ago, are on the way back to the top.
“The lads were terrific, the commitment was first class and considering we were three minutes away... People will talk about penalties but our overall performance was outstanding,” he said.
“Arsenal have got world class players and played their strongest team, but you have to give the players so much credit. I hope this can be the first of many nights like this for Bradford City. We want to put Bradford on the map again. I want them to have a team to be proud of.”
Wenger, who abandoned his normal policy of playing reserves, stood by his players after last night’s humiliation.
“Congratulations to Bradford, they had a good start and after that they defended well,” he said.
“Overall we had many chances. The keeper had a great game and we couldn’t convert our chances.”
Probed on the magnitude of the Gunners losing to a League Two side, Wenger added: “When you go out it’s never good enough at Arsenal.”
When asked if it was a humiliating loss, he said: “I think we lost on penalties to a team who defended well.
“I cannot fault the effort we gave for 120 minutes. You have to give credit to Bradford on the night. That’s part of the game.
“It’s not a lack of quality. We couldn’t convert our chances for different reasons. Overall it was a real cup game.”
He concluded by saying: “We will get over that. It’s part of our club, it’s what we do.”
The 23,971 sell-out crowd, Bradford’s biggest since 1960, had groaned as the teams were read out but they were soon cheering when their top-scorer Nahki Wells out-muscled Vermaelen and forced a sprawling save from Wojciech Szczesny.
Hope turned to jubilation for the Bradford fans in the 16th minute when a free-kick led to Thompson’s goal.
Vermaelen had blocked off Wells and Gary Jones caused mayhem to Arsenal’s zonal markers with his free-kick, Will Atkinson flicking it on for an unmarked Thompson to gleefully fire home.
It could have been 2-0 after Jones’ corner found Rory McArdle and only Kieran Gibbs’ clearance on the goal-line prevented further embarrassment for Wenger’s men.
Arsenal needed inspiration from somewhere and Francis Coquelin was almost the unlikely source with a skilful dribble through two challenges before rattling a shot against the foot of the post with Duke looking beaten.
Bradford’s goal took on a charmed life when a more typical Arsenal move ended with Gibbs driving in a cross and Gervinho, from two yards out, somehow contriving to let the ball go through his legs.
The Gunners’ frustrations continued in the second half, Jack Wilshere flashing a shot well wide, then Gervinho mis-controlling when through on goal.
It was well past the hour when Duke was forced into his first save, parrying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first-time shot from fellow substitute Tomas Rosicky.
The desperation finally paid dividends with three minutes of normal time remaining. After his corner had been half-cleared, Santi Cazorla whipped in a delicious cross for Vermaelen to head home from close range.
Two brilliant saves in quick succession by Duke from Cazorla took the game into extra time.
Finally, Arsenal started to look like the Premier League side as Rosicky and Wilshere started to pull the strings. Duke’s stunning save denied Gibbs, then Sagna’s header was cleared off the line by Jones.
Cazorla nearly won it with a stunning, swerving effort from fully 30 yards that struck the crossbar, but Bradford held out for the shoot-out.
Arsenal were always on the back foot from when Cazorla had their first spot-kick saved, even more so when Marouane Chamakh hit the post.
Bradford could even afford to see Wojciech Szczesny deny Ritchie Jones and Stephen Darby before Vermaelen’s miss sent Valley Parade into ecstasy.
BRADFORD: Duke, Darby, McHugh, McArdle, Meredith, Thompson (Ritchie Jones 72), Doyle, Gary Jones, Atkinson (Turgott 92), Hanson, Wells (Connell 74).
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Cazorla, Ramsey (Rosicky 69), Wilshere, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69), Coquelin (Chamakh 60), Gervinho.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).