Arsenal responded to a dismal midweek loss against Bradford and beat Reading 5-2 away. In a match that marked an improvement in attack, passing was generally better and more penetrative. Good one touch flicks and better off the ball movement was marred by a lapse in concentration mid way in the second half with a comfortable 4 goal lead. Nevertheless, the team finished the game strongly after being shaken up. I can’t remember when was the last time we had back to back wins. Of course, this match will be better remembered for Cazorla’s hat trick and the fact that he actually scored a header.
Fighting for It
After deserved criticism in the last game, the players came out strongly fighting for every ball. The team worked hard, sticking in to every challenge and stretching that one extra bit to nick the ball. I wasn’t expecting much after the doldrums of mid week but the amount of effort shown on the pitch showed a much needed response.
There was a desperation to shoot from the get go.
More importantly, off the ball movement was high allowing us to find multiple spots to send the ball forward. Granted Reading on the other hand was playing well below par in defence but we didn’t sit around and wait for things to happen. The entire team took the initiative calling for the ball and moving into dangerous positions. Due to that we easily created 6-7 good chances in the first half. There was a desperation to shoot from the get go.
The first goal came because of that desire. Podolski ran through the middle nicking the ball and smashing it on his second touch. The ball was being driven to an on waiting Walcott but if Poldi had not rushed it, it was likely that Reading’s defence would have gotten it a split second before Walcott. This is the kind of drive that wins you games.
It is fair to say the team took their foot off the peddle in the second half. The fourth goal led to more overconfidence. Reading’s first was down to both luck and a poor decision from Gibbs to cross into the middle in his own half. Wilshere was the intended recipient but he fell off the ball due to an earlier knock. This would have been easily averted.
The big German rarely does anything wrong but this wasn’t a good match from him.
Reading’s second came from more predictable circumstances and Per was fully to blame for it. TV5 did his best to track and win the ball but Per just stood still with nothing to mark. The big German rarely does anything wrong but this wasn’t a good match from him. He was also at fault for the first, choosing again to stand still when he could at least challenge for the ball.
Walcott As CF
With Giroud given extra time to recover and Gervinho predictably rested after a really terrible game against Bradford, Walcott was given his chance to claim the CF spot. We have a couple of wingers who want to be centre forwards and that includes Walcott and Podolski. Given contractual claims and all, Theo got the nod ahead of Podolski.
Walcott would also, if he hadn’t already, understand how different it is to play as a CF as compared to a winger. He didn’t get much of the ball and he often lost out to long balls aimed ahead of him because of his height. But I felt Theo did well. He was keeping a close watch on the line and was ready to breakaway instantly. This allowed him a 1 on 1 early on which he got on target but it was a poor shot and the on rushing keeper diverted the ball out. If he had nailed that, it would have helped his cause. He didn’t do everything 100% right but he calmly finished one in the end.
Theo didn’t do everything 100% right but he calmly finished one in the end.
Walcott’s instincts and ability to stay focused leading the line without dropping too far in is something that Giroud can take note from. Wenger has often mentioned that Giroud should play off the last defender, bordering on the offside line to get the best out of his game. Given that the team have often been immobile and listless in the past few games, it was understandable that Giroud had to defy such orders to drop back deeper and win / hold the ball. The performance today was different and Walcott was given full license to just do what a ST has to. He did well.
If there’s one thing the team has achieved defensively this season, is the surety they have in each other in holding the offside line. Multiple times, the team stepped up as a unit well and calls for offsides came in unison instantly. It was a mark of getting the defensive line right.
Is the Bould effect there? Yes. Even in poor form, the team has looked to be more conservative rather than reckless (which would be what we did in past seasons). This has to be down to an emphasis on getting the defence right. In some sense, there was speculation that our attacking flair was being curbed. Whether that is true or not is tough to tell but there is more coordination in defence than in seasons past. The defensive structure is right. The biggest problem now is glaring individual errors like the ones from Gibbs and Per today. Obviously, it is also not hard to improve from what was often shambolic defending in past seasons.
Is The Nightmare Over?
No. This team has shown incredible inconsistency. Fans in general have been conditioned to accept patches of good and bad form, but what we have this season is a pendulum swinging game to game. It’s hard to say until we can put in a consistent run of 5 games or so. May not have to be winning everything but at least 5 good convincing performances in a row will do a world of good. Football has an element of chance but as long the team is doing its best to make its own luck, the fans will be contented for now.
|GK||W. Sczeney||7.5||Reliable. Did very well coming off his line and saving from crosses/corners. Good saves.|
|RB||B. Sagna||7||Quiet but tidy. Finished his job professionally.|
|CB||P. Mertesacker||5.5||Was at fault at both goals. The fact is that he didn’t move when he was the last man. Mistakes brought worry back into the game.|
|CB||T. Vermalen||6.5||Did well. But, for once, was let down by the BFG.|
|LB||K. Gibbs||6||Great play going forward and did acceptably in defence Didn’t enjoy as much cover as he would like from Poldi. Should have learnt better than to cross into the middle in his own half.|
|CM||M. Arteta||7.5||Professional job from our most defensive midfielder. Made multiple key interceptions.|
|CM||J. Wilshere||8||Another excellent game from the young English national. Aggressive both in attack and defence Took a studs up kick to the groin. Looked to be in discomfort. Off the ball slip led to Reading’s goal.|
|AM||S. Cazorla||9||He is used to being the creator but he did all the finishing today. Scoring from his head must surely be a sign of how bad the Reading defence was at tracking on rushing players into their box. Our first league hat trick hero of the season.|
|RF||A. Chamberlain||7.5||Tricky going forward and fashioned multiple chances. Chamberlain would surely be our first choice RF if Theo stays at CF or goes.|
|CF||T. Walcott||7.5||Did his best and really worked hard to score. Had a few chances but showed his favoured position with his goal, of which he scored from a deeper position. He needs a target man to work off.|
|LF||L. Podolski||8.5||I felt Poldi did exceptionally well after many quiet games. His desire gave us the lead and he was responsible for many precise crosses that led to the confidence boosting margin (2 assists for Santi). He provided width and stormed the middle, interchanging superbly. Best game so far from the German.|
|SUB||A. Ramsey||6||Didn’t have much to do. Brought onto stabilize the team after 2 goals conceded.|
|SUB||F. Coquelin||6||Came on after the fifth was scored. Did his part to protect the lead.|
|SUB||O. Giroud||6||Came on late to replace Walcott. Had 2 chances. Did well on the second but completely screwed up the first.|