All the buzz before the game was around Theo Walcott earning his debut as a central man. Wenger stated after the game it was because of some sound performances in training, my feeling is that it was more about his agents and some serious arm twisting! Who cares about the reasons, as I said before the game yesterday, our problem for a while has been the lack of decisive movement from the front three. Wenger tackled this issue by opting for a front three of Podolski, Chamberlain and Theo. The midfield consisted of Jack, Santi and Arteta. The back line was our strongest… Sagna, Gibbs with a centre back pairing of Vermaelen and Mertesacker.
Reading gifted us tactically by opting for two central midfielders. When you’re playing against three of them, you tend to screw yourself straight away. Especially against technical fast passers. We controlled possession from the off. Chamberlain was the first to have ago after a winding run ended in a low shot Federici did well to palm away. Theo was next up to crack at goal with a freekick that just whistled wide. Continuing the pattern of having a pop, Cazorla also let rip from range.
Pogrebnyak reminded us that we still had problems at the back. He managed to work a one two between Cazorla and Gibbs, lucky for us his cross into the box wasn’t particularly effective.
Our first goal came from the left, Podolski and Gibbs interchanged nicely, the Englishman set loose down the wing whipped in a perfect cross that Podolski had time to bring down and bury low past the Aussie keeper. A well taken goal and a showcase of the talent he has hidden away.
We really took control of the game, Reading had no answer at all. Theo had his first chance to shine when he broke through one on one, he fluffed his lines though as the keeper saved and blocked the ball wide.
Pogrebnyak once again proved troublesome outwide as he roasted our back four, his cut back into the box was better this time, however, Vermaelen was quick to intercept the danger. A lot of our defending is last gasp, it’s quite frustrating that most of Reading’s breaks came from mistakes.
It wasn’t long before we were on the score sheet again. The assist coming from the left again, this time Lukas crossed a teasing low ball that Cazorla was able to get his head on (only a man that small would have got down that low)! He celebrated with the same shock Henry did when he bundled a ball into the net against Liverpool (I think?).
Cazorla banging in his second when he collected a Gibbs cross, turned and banged the ball into the net. The man was on fire!
Just before halftime, Chamberlain was close to getting in on the headed goal action as he beat everyone into the box to connect with a superb Sagna cross, sadly, Federici was equal to it and pulled off a masterful save.
The second half was a bit more eventful, Reading switched to a three man midfield forcing us into using Mertesacker as an outlet, the tactic most teams have used against us this season. This put more pressure on us at the back and made for a slighlty more competitive second half. Only slightly…
Theo and Mertesacker both went close before Cazorla stepped up to the plate again to finish off a lovely passing move that involved Chamberlain, Wilshere… with Podolski teeing up the Spaniard to slot into an empty net! A great goal with all the hallmarks of an Arsenal team with the handbrake fully released.
Too released perhaps?
Le Fondre spoiled the party when Reading capitalised on a a hospital ball from Gibbs… Jack slipped, the ball was picked up in midfield by Tabb, Vermaelen didn’t fancy following Le Fondre instead opting to chase the ball, the striker was slipped in, took it round Chezzer and tapped into an empty net. A catalogue of shoddy errors and no clean sheet.
On 70 minutes, we conceded yet another poor goal. The defence transfixed by the ball failed to check the run of Kebe, Podolski played him onside and we conceded yet again. Bad news. Could we concede another massive lead again? Was this Newcastle except a bit worse?
Thankfully not, Wenger brought on Ramsey and everything was ok.
Theo Walcott had the final say when Cazorla played him in with a lovely reverse pass. His first touch was into space, his second was a low curling shot into the bottom corner. Henry-esque and well deserved.
5-2 is a bit of a cricket score, but one that I can live with. I wanted us to spank Reading out of sight and we did. The over the top noise from Sky around Wenger being in the clear pressure wise was ridiculous. It shows the agenda explayers have both sides of the coin (Robson wanting revenge / Quinn possibly wanting a job). We just beat the team rooted to the bottom of the league. We didn’t dismantle Barcelona 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Still, it’s progress. Two wins in a row is always nice and it moves us up the table and improves our goal difference. I believe we can go 3rd this weekend, even if only for a little amount of time. I think we’ll be there by January. That’s a worry, because you know that will give Wenger all the ammo he needs to say, ‘we’re better off this year than we were last year, I believe in this super serious squad’.
Anyway, that’s a conversation for another day.
What about today?
Well, we learned that mobility, pace and control seem to be very important ingredients to a front three. Injecting pace into the front line with the lead being Theo made the world of difference to the game. Whatever you think of the Englishman, he scares defenders. He makes them think twice and he creates space. Throw in a more adventurous Chamberlain into the mix and a motivated Podolski… well, you have a recipe for chances and creativity. You’re giving the midfield something to aim for and you give everyone confidence.
I also thought we saw another very solid contribution from Gibbs. His understanding with Podolski was used to great effect last night. Both can cross, which is a big problem for defences and an advantage we haven’t had for years. If they can build on that as the season goes on, we’ll have a very effective left side of the park.
In midfield, Cazorla was electric. If you give him time and space, he’s unplayable. I still think the challenge is how we operate when we’re being man marked in midfield. I think we’re still a Diaby away from being a threat to the top teams in the league. I think we still need some top quality cover because those three are being run into the ground at the moment. Still, even though it was only Reading, it was nice to see the trio work the ball to devastating effect. Jack was throwing himself around the pitch like a terrier. I love the fact he’s a loose cannon. It’ll lead to red cards, but you’ll never get anything less than 100% effort from the boy. Keeping him fit is imperative. His fight gives us an edge we don’t have without him.
The defence is still giving me nightmares. We shouldn’t be conceding goals to teams like Reading. 2 goals against them is 4 against Chelsea. It’s why we’ll struggle in the latter stages of the Champions League and against the top 4 teams. The error prone Vermaelen is still a massive problem as far as I’m concerned. His decision making has been poor of late. Too much of his defending is last gasp and based on gambling. The back 4 is still not a cohesive unit. More worrying is how we defend as a team. It needs addressing if we ever want to challenge for major trophies.
Anyway, overall… I’m pleased. We have Wigan at the weekend which should be another three points in the bag. The West Ham game on Boxing Day looks like it could be doomed because of a potential tube strike. That really wouldn’t fuss me. A nice rest for the players. A nice rest for the fans! Boxing Day games are always a bit sterile when it comes to atmosphere.
Final bit, Sagna looked like he’d lost the plot at the end. I think it was over an issue with a decision not a ingrained hatred of Vermaelen. Also, I saw that ‘Wenger out’ banner that was unfurled at the end of the game. First rule of football protest… don’t do it after a pretty thumping win. It’ll mostly get ignored.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Have a great day, see you in the comments!