Monday, April 1, 2013

Arsenal 4 Reading 1

This game always looked set for a home win as we had enough quality to beat a relegation-threatened Reading side on paper even with the absence of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. However, a newly appointed manager always gives an extra boost, which was the unpredictable factor we feared. Nigel Adkins has already seen what would happen if his side let Arsenal play their game in Southampton's 6-1 defeat at the Emirates earlier this season. His new club has also seen Arsenal score against them 12 goals in their two previous meetings this season. Some of us expected Reading to sit back and contain Arsenal like many teams do when they visit the Emirates, while others predicted an open game as a point wouldn't be enough for Reading to keep their hopes of staying up.

On top of the possible 'new manager syndrome' effect on Reading, how the latest international break would affect us was another unknown factor. We had so many players involved in the World Cup qualifiers. Fortunately, most of them had a good international break, with Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Aaron Ramsey getting on the scoresheet for their respective countries, Nacho Monreal and Tomas Rosicky setting up goals, and Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen helping their respective national teams keep a clean sheet. Injuries picked up during international breaks have also been a cause for concern for us over the past years. Especially we used to sweat over a certain Dutchman's fitness, but this time Theo Walcott was the only casualty. Theo was released from the England squad due to a pelvic muscular strain he suffered in training, but he is expected to be back for the WBA game next weekend. Nonetheless, we still feared that the international break might disrupt our recent form, which was the league's second best after Manchester United's.

Arsene Wenger made four changes to the side who started in the defeat of Swansea two weeks ago. We expected the Ox to replace injured Theo on the right wing, but the boss had another idea. Gervinho was promoted from the bench to the starting line-up following his impressive performance as an impact sub in the Swansea match. We thought that the Ivorian should have a couple of more games as a sub to build up his confidence before he starts a game, but his display must have been good enough to convince Wenger that he was ready to start.

Much to our discontent, Lukas Podolski was not included in the starting XI despite being fully fit again. Amid speculations surrounding his future at Arsenal, this was a concerning sign. It is not fair to him if he is to be sold before he is given decent chances to prove himself in his preferred central striker role. Cazorla moved to the left flank from central midfield where he looked superb against Swansea. In fact, he drifted to the middle so often and his goal came from exactly there that we were not quite sure what his real role was in this game. We think he excels in central midfield when he is given space and freedom rather than the left wing.

Tomas Rosicky came in for an attacking central midfielder role, while Ramsey replaced Abou Diaby, who suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament this week. Apparently, the team wore "Get well soon Abou" shirts in warm-up in their support to the hapless midfielder who is no stranger to serious injuries. (We missed all the build-up to the game because poor Joaquin couldn't put the game on the TV screen until kick-off despite having struggled since 10 o'clock in the morning) This time the injury is expected to keep the Frenchman out of action for eight to nine months. We feel sorry for him, but you cannot build a team around a player as injury-prone as him. Wenger has to discount Diaby when the Club go into the summer transfer window.

Elsewhere, fit-again Bacary Sagna replaced Carl Jenkinson, who successfully deputised the French defender in the last two games. In the past week,'s Online Opinion Poll asked which full-back partnership the fans prefer. The most popular pairing was Jenkinson-Gibbs, followed by Jennkinson-Monreal.

Arsenal's depth in the squad was often questioned over the past years, but it is encouraging to find that we can still produce this level of performance without key players such as Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Even Roy Hodgson acknowledged that England sorely missed Jack in their draw against Montenegro, but we have produced some impressive results and performances without him. In this game, we had Vermaelen left on the bench, while Gibbs, Poldi, and the Ox came off the bench.

It was a comfortable win for Arsenal and it could have been an even more emphatic scoreline if Gervinho had converted all the chances he had in the first half and had it not been for Reading's last-ditch blocks. That said, we enjoyed the Gunners' free-flowing football and were pleased with their spirit. They looked like they wanted it more than the Reading side who were battling against relegation. Especially, our midfielders chased every loose ball and did a great job of cutting off any supply for Reading's lone striker, Pavel Pogrebnyak. We must admit that Reading were poor on the day, but they were the side who caused Manchester United significant problems at Old Trafford and were unlucky to come away with nothing two weeks ago.

For us, Gooners, it was one of rare games we could watch comfortably. Although during the first half, we were worried if we might have to pay for our profligacy at the end of the game, it didn't take us long after the break to be reassured that three points were in the bag. Arsenal took full control of the game and dictated it from the beginning to the end. As Arsene Wenger said in the post-match interview, the right balance between defence and attack was the key.

The convincing win boosted our hopes of the top-four finish. Chelsea's loss to Southampton highlighted the fact that everybody can drop points anywhere in the run-in. We are now two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with the same number of games played and four points adrift of third-placed Tottenham, but with a game in hand. The two teams will have to play each other, and before that Tottenham will face another top-four finish contenders, Everton, next Sunday only three days after their Europa League match. We have to continue our excellent run of form and win all those winnable games.

Player ratings

Fabianski: 7
He had little to do as Reading registered only two shots on target, one of which was an easy save for him.

Sagna: 8
Back into the team as soon as he is fit again. This must underline Wenger's faith in him despite all the rumours over his departure in the summer as his contract talks show little progress. Solid defensively, went forward to help attack on the right flank. Delivered a couple of good crosses as well. Overall, he made a solid return to the side. 

Mertesacker: 7 
Comfortable afternoon for the German defender.

Koscielny: 8
Made a crucial tackle.

Monreal: 6
He was not alert enough to spot Robson-Kanu's run. Replaced by Gibbs in 71st minute as a result of an injury when he collided with the post. Wenger confirmed that the Spain international should recover from a bruised hip in two or three days.

Ramsey: 8
Made 87 passes, including 4 key passes, with 90% passing success rate and an impressive 6 interceptions. His form has been improving steadily this season. His performance for the Walsh national team last weekend impressed many people. Unlucky not to score. One of his goal attempts was deflected wide, another forced a good save from Stuart Taylor.

Arteta: 8 
Completed 108 passes with 93% passing success rate. His incisive pass released Giroud, who should have been awarded a penalty. Scored from a spot-kick with calmness.

Rosicky: 7
Had a good game with quick purposeful passing and drive through the Reading defence.

Cazorla: 9
He was at heart of creativity. Scored his 12th goal in the Premier League with an exquisite curled finish.

Gervinho: 9
Although he missed a few clear-cut chances, scoring 1 and assisting 2 should justify the rating. He looked dangerous throughout the 75 minutes he spent on the pitch. His decisions for the final ball left a lot to be desired earlier in the season, but the one he made in the counter-attack was spot on. His well-weighed pass didn't even require Giroud a touch.

Giroud: 8
Well-taken goal, which was his 16th of the season. Not bad for his first season in English football. He is often accused of being static, but he was fairly mobile in this game. 


Gibbs: 6
Glad to see him make the bench after he had been sick for three days and was doubtful for this game. Made his 100th appearance for Arsenal when he came off the bench in 71st minute to replace injured Nacho.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
75th-minute substitute for Gervinho. Made an immediate impact by intercepting and running at the Reading defenders. Earned a penalty.

Podolski: 6
75th-minute substitute for Giroud. It was interesting to see how he played a central striking role, where he played only once in the season opener, but there was little time to make an impact.


Christ Foy: 5
Made three wrong decisions. Giroud should have had a penalty when Stuart Taylor clattered him. Mariappa handled the ball blatantly. The Ox was possibly fouled outside the box. However, it took a couple of replays to confirm where the foul was committed and the penalty may be a fair result after the two legitimate penalty claims were turned down. Good job these decisions didn't affect the outcome of the game.

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