Arsenal took a much-needed three points from last night’s match vs. Reading and hopefully it silences the criticism that has been plaguing the club as of late. The 5-2 result was well deserved given the balance of play and it’s about time that we started performing to the high levels of expectation for a top club. We completely dominated the first 60 minutes of play, and if it were not for some critical Federici saves, the score could have easily been 7-0.
Three of the five goals were produced from the left side of the pitch, with one other goal assisted by Gibbs on the left from a fantastic Theo cross. Much of our early season success came from a dangerous left side that featured overlapping runs and fantastic link up play from Podolski and Gibbs. Gibbs’ injury vs. West Ham directly coincided with the attack down the left flank breaking down. Hopefully, the Gibbs-Podolski partnership continues to flourish consistently from here on out.
The left side was given more freedom to attack due to the speed threat of Theo down the middle; Reading’s defense was quite narrow and given our last clash with them in the Capital One Cup, they were right to be concerned. Up front, our attack was finally given shape and we were treated to a classic, beautiful Arsenal display – fluid passing, direct runs, intelligent movement and relentless pressure from both flanks. This was possible because Arsene finally switched his tactics and played a more mobile striker in Theo up front. The front three were interchanging their positions with Podolski and Ox occasionally drifting centrally and Theo chasing down balls played into open space down the left and right.
Szczesny (7.5) – The Pole’s continued to give us stability in goal and has done everything you can reasonably expect from a keeper. He did well to outstretch himself and grab what could have been an easy goal for Reading off a corner. None of the goals were his fault and were a direct result of defensive breakdowns. However, it would have been nice to see Szczesny save 1 of the 2 goals.
Gibbs (8.5) – Fantastic display down the left hand side and helped give our attack shape. Two assists, some scoring opportunities that were blocked and plenty of good crosses. Constantly pushed forward offensively and was reliable coming back for his defensive duties. The only reason I didn’t give him a higher rating was because of his errant pass to Wilshere that led to a goal that brought Reading back into the game.
Vermaelen (8.0) – Has looked much more reliable defensively this year and saved us early on in the game on a 2 v 1 by clearing Pogrebnyak’s pass across the front of the goal. Would have liked to have seen him more involved offensively, but it was more a luxury than a necessity today. Great game by our captain, took a gamble to intercept Gibbs’ errant pass before the first goal.
Mertesacker (7.0) – Broke up a few of Reading’s plays and ensures that we have adequate defensive cover. However, he was guilty of ball watching and drifted away from marking Kebe, who eventually scored the 2nd goal.
Sagna (7.0) – His crosses have been ineffective all year and perhaps it was fortunate that he was not playing in as much of an advanced role yesterday. Reading’s few scoring chances primarily came down the left side, a testament to both our domination in possession and to his defensive reliability. Still, had a few turnovers from poor passes and I’ve come to expect more from what I believe is the best right back in the Premier League.
Arteta (8.5) – The engine that drives our team and it was evident that we missed him last week in our loss to BradfordCity. Won ball possession back and instantly pressured Reading when we lost possession of the ball. Always great with ball retention, followed his defensive responsibilities well and distributed the ball to our creative outlets as we’ve seen him do all season. Really helped to settle our team down and conserved his energy to chase down attackers.
Wilshere (8.5) – You can tell that he’s the one who wants to make things happen for the squad. He leads the team up field with his charging runs with the ball and he is always looking to add directness to our attack from the midfield. His aggressive style helps keep the opposition in check, but it did lead to a yellow card. He had an opportunity to score from a nice mid-air volley but the effort was met from an even better Federici save. It was unfortunate that he slipped on the 1st goal, but the pass shouldn’t have been played that far away from him in the first place. Jack really should have had at least one assist today, but personal accomplishments are not important when the team wins.
Cazorla (9.5) – 3 goals and 1 assist, well deserved ‘Man of the Match’ recognition and he really showed his world-class ability. Recently, I’ve accused him of not being influential enough to take matters into his own hands to turn around games for our team, but yesterday he truly was the difference. He was creating plenty of through ball scoring chances for Theo, made intelligent passes in the final third, always put himself in good positions to score and took plenty of chances that he may not have taken in past games. The only thing keeping his rating from a perfect 10 was his defensive lapse early in the game when Pogrebnyak was on the receiving end of a nice give and go that almost led to a Reading goal when the game was 0-0. In addition, later in the 78th minute, Santi tried to do it all by himself vs. 6 Reading players and turned the ball over in Reading’s 18-yard box. As you can see, I really had to nitpick to find any flaws in his game yesterday.
Podolski (9.0) – A goal and 2 assists and it appears like Podolski has finally come back into form and reignited his partnership with Gibbs down the left flank. He’s often accused of either disappearing or being non-existent in games, but today he put in a great performance for the full 90 minutes. A couple erroneous passes at the edge of and within Reading’s 18-yard box brought down his rating slightly.
Walcott (8.5) – His pace is a nightmare for defenders and Reading gave him plenty of space to make intelligent runs into empty space. His goal at the 80th minute destroyed any hope of a Reading comeback and despite starting as a striker, he was willing to move out wide and distributed some nice crosses into the middle of the pitch (he spotted Gibbs with a cross that eventually led to the third goal). However, Theo missed a breakaway opportunity in the first half and he could have passed to a wide-open Podolski in the second half instead of taking a shot that was wide of the mark.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.5) – He really set the tempo of the game for us after his blazing run and attempt on goal that was deflected wide by Federici in the opening minutes. Reading had difficulty coping with his pace all night and his ability to cut inside added another element of directness and unpredictability to our attack. In fact, it was his decision to take the ball inside and pass it to Wilshere that eventually led to Cazorla’s hat trick, which involved classy, vintage Arsenal build-up play. He did disappear for about half the match and was rightfully substituted in the second half. He had a great opportunity to score his first PL goal this season but a spectacular sprawling Federici save met his header.
Ramsey, Giroud and Coquelin (Incomplete) – All were relatively late substitutes and did not have sufficient time to make an impact on the game. I hate to pick on Ramsey after such a great team effort but our attack down the right side became non-existent once he stepped onto the pitch and we ended up passing backwards into our own end more. Giroud missed a great opportunity to get onto the score sheet after sending a volley into Federici’s outstretched arms on a breakaway. Coquelin made a nice run forward and held the play up well that eventually led to a Podolski give away, but that’s about all I noticed from him in his cameo appearance.
Despite Arsenal playing a game full of so many positives, there were still negatives to take away. In typical Arsenal fashion, an inspiring first 60 minutes eventually led to 2 goals that gave life to a late Reading comeback. It looked like a realistic possibility before Theo iced the game with a great finish at the 80th minute to make it 5-2.
We have lacked focus defensively for much of this season and have been punished late in games for conceding crucial goals (2nd leg vs. Schalke, Swansea, Fulham, Olympiacos); fortunately, today we amassed a significant lead to relieve some of the pressure if such a scenario were to occur again. As noted earlier, Gibbs’ misplaced pass exposed us for the first goal and ball watching by Mertesacker led to the second goal. Finally, zonal marking on corners looks like it’ll eventually do us in, and we were fortunate to only concede 3 today.
Going forward, questions still remain unanswered. Can we replicate the same success at home? Was today’s result a testament to our improved team play or us facing a very poor, lackluster Reading side? Will this win be met with any level of consistency or will we once again be victims of an underwhelming performance next time out? Not to sound too pessimistic after today’s glorious performance, but there’s been a disturbing trend of inconsistency that casts a shadow of doubt over the coming Wigan clash on Saturday.
Four times this season, we’ve managed to follow up encouraging wins with losses or ties: beat West Ham, then lost to Norwich/beat QPR, then lost to Utd/beat Tottenham, then tied Villa and Everton before losing to Swansea/beat WBA, then lost to Bradford on pens.
All in all, a great game where we dictated the pace of the game and the result should go a long way in building confidence for our squad.
Written by: The Gooner.