Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reading 2 Arsenal 5

It was a relatively quiet night at Las Mimosas bar, especially with quite a few of our members already gone back to the UK for Christmas and some of the others still recovering from pre-Christmas parties the night before. We didn't know what to expect from Arsenal XI after the heartbreaking exit from the Capital One Cup by the hand of a League Two side, but we all knew how important it was to us to bounce back quickly and get all three points to climb up the table.

Arsene Wenger brought Mikel Arteta back to the starting line-up after the Spaniard sat out on the bench to see his side knocked out of the Capital One Cup. Gervinho, Coquelin, and Ramsey, who played in last Tuesday's defeat, were dropped to the bench. The Ox started on the right-wing, while fit again Walcott was given a role as a central striker, for which his desire is well-documented. To much of our surprise, Giroud started on the bench despite having recovered in time from the knock on his back sustained during the WBA match. Wenger explained his decision as he judged that the Englishman was ready for the role, having seen him in training. The team selection turned out to be spot-on. The open nature of the game gave an advantage to the pace of the front three. In fact, it was not only the forward trio that enjoyed time and space Reading gave, but also the midfield trio. They excelled again, just like they did against West Brom nine days ago. Santi and Jack delivered passes that made most of tonight's pacy strikers.

As soon as the game had been kicked off, we noticed a difference in Arsenal's approach with a pleasant surprise. Their attack was quick and the players chose to take a shot rather than passing around.

The only negative from this game was conceding two cheap goals and failing to keep a clean sheet. Gibbs' loose pass led to Reading's first goal, which Mertesacker still could have done better to prevent.  Five minutes later, Reading found the net for the second time this night. Mertesacker was at fault for this as well. At this moment, we were recalling Newcastle's historical comeback against us. Arsene Wenger was in the same thoughts, admitting in his post-match interview "at 4-2, I saw your headlines coming". However, Arsenal managed to regain control of the game. We were ruthless again. Just as we did against Tottenham, when the opponents thought they could get back into the game, we scored. Walcott's 80th-minute goal extinguished any hope for Reading's comeback.

This game was refreshing in that positives far outweighed negatives. All five goals were from open play without a hint of controversies. 26 shots, of which 13 were on target, highlight that we have created a number of chances and finished half of them clinically. Other stats, including a 67% possession and an 88% passing success rate, indicate that Arsenal's free-flowing football was back. The 5-2 scoreline was the repeat of the north London derby, but this time it was against 11-men, eliminating all the ifs and buts. Although this night's Reading side may have been as poor as last week's West Brom side, but the Berkshire team offered more going forward than West Brom did. Many are still sniffy about our second consecutive league win because of Reading's current league position. They might have only managed one win so far this season, but it was a shock defeat of a good Everton side, whose early-season form was a revelation this season and is still in the mix for top-four finish. The Royals also gave Manchester United a good run for their money before falling to a 4-3 loss.

There were some encouraging signs. Building on the outstanding performance against West Brom the weekend before, the midfield trio seemed to have gelled together. Understanding between Poldi and Gibbs on the left flank appeared to have come back after a disruption caused by Gibbs' lay-off. Poldi and Santi combined well just like earlier this season when we were playing well.

Overall, it was a convincing win and vital three points, which saw us move up the table to fifth, just two points off third-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and fourth-placed Tottenham. This game may not be a testament that all our problems have been solved, but it certainly helped lift the fans' mood. We are back in winning ways and hopefully we will get a good run of form this time around.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 6
Mixed performance. Some good saves and decisions, but also had a hairy moment by missing the ball completely.

Sagna: 7
Effective both offensively and defensively.

Mertesacker: 5
He was switched off for Reading's two goals.

Vermaelen: 7
Made a crucial intervention and covered well for Gibbs when the England left-back went forward.

Gibbs: 6
Great going forward, providing two assists, but his mistake cost us a clean sheet.

Cazorla: 9
Hat-trick hero. Set up a goal for Walcott, as well. He demonstrated his class.

Arteta: 8
Made most of space and time he had and led Arsenal's midfield dominance.

Wilshere: 8
Battled hard to win the ball. Glad to see him pick himself up every time he had received physical challenges from Reading players. On the receiving end of one kick, every man in the bar went "Ow..!". The yellow card was a decision difficult to understand.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Some good efforts.

Walcott: 8
Took his goal well, but also squandered a glorious chance in a one-on-one situation with the keeper, which any "deadly" striker should have buried.

Podolski: 8
Provided two assists and scored one goal. Good to see him influential in attack and get on the scoresheet again.


Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench in the 74th minute to replace the Ox. Although he was involved in some attacking moves, he had little impact.

Coquelin: 6
Replaced Cazorla in the 82nd minute.

Giroud: 6
Came on for Walcott in the 85th minute. Had a chance to score, but the Reading keeper Federici did well to smother the ball.

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