Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal: From Embarrassing To Inspiring And Onto Pure Magic

In the pre-match article I was talking about Reading’s ability to score goals and also touched upon the gaps they leave at the back that have cost them goals. The final line of the post was, “All-in-all this should be a riveting game with plenty of action in the final third.”

In all honesty though, the events of that game were beyond my wildest imagination.

With the such changed line-up featuring a number of youngsters who don’t get to taste high-level competitive football on a weekly basis, there were always going to be a few questions about the patterns of play. The first one I’d posed was, “Will the Gunners be able to dominate the midfield as they usually do?”

In the initial exchanges, the answer to that was a resounding “No!” As is typical of a Wenger side, the players tried to build from the back but Reading were able to disrupt the rhythm through the heavy pressure they applied. The midfield just couldn’t handle it. Youngsters like Coquelin and Frimpong can sometimes hide on the pitch when playing alongside experienced and technically accomplished Pros but in this game they were the key players who buckled under pressure. Too many Arsenal players were struggling to receive, hold, and pass the ball consistently under pressure and you could visibly see the hosts gaining confidence with each technical error.

Reading won a couple of corners in the first two or three minutes itself but it took them till the 12th minute to open the scoring. By the 20th minute they were 3 up. Struggling to build from the back was the initial weakness but the nature of turnovers exposed a bigger underlying vulnerability – the lack of structure, technique, and composure in defence.

The amount of space that Robson-Kanu had because Walcott didn’t track his run after giving the ball away, or the acreage in the penalty box for Roberts to run into was a symptom of that vulnerability. The ease with which Norwich went past Arsenal’s wide players in the build-up to the second, Koscielny’s uncanny knack of directing the ball towards his own goal, Chamakh giving the ball away in the build-up to the third with many Gunners running forward blindly, and Martinez’s flailing attempt to save can all be chalked down as individual errors but the high price paid in the form of goals was a result of the system’s deficiency.

The easiest way to understand it is by observing the impact of similar errors after the patterns of play had changed. Later in the game, there were still mistakes being made at the back but the Gunners had pushed Reading sufficiently away from their goal and thus were in better positions to recover from those mistakes. The problems in defence didn’t just simply vanish but their impact was suppressed by the structure of the side and resulting patterns were threatening but not harmful.

After their third goal, Reading took their foot off the gas. This would prove to be their biggest mistake but it wasn’t evident till much later in the game. From this point on the Gunners were able to build from the back and saw a lot of the ball in central areas where they weren’t challenged. The hosts were willing to sit back in a shape and keep the play in front of them.

In this phase Arsenal’s possession looked harmless with too many misplaced passes or poor touches in the final third. Indeed, it was McDermott’s side who picked up another goal on a foray forward. Once again it was lax tracking on Arsenal’s right flank and an inability to attack the ball in the box.

The Gunners had hit rock bottom. The performance was embarrassing and there is just no way to sugar-coat it. This was my thought at that moment,

The rest of the first half followed similar patterns with Arsenal having a lot of the ball without really testing Federici in goal.

A glimmer of hope came in injury time when a weak header from Gorkss came straight to Arshavin who was able to slide Walcott through. Theo scored with the last kick of the half. His technique and composure were commendable.

The second half was an entirely different affair but it wasn’t until two astute substitutions from Wenger that we started seeing decisive contributions in the final third. Frimpong and Gnabry, arguably the two least effective players in the starting eleven, were taken off for Giroud and Eisfeld.

In the preview I’d also mentioned the point about Arsenal needing reinforcements from the bench in order to make a comeback. Fair play to Arsene for picking Giroud in the squad. The Frenchman made a near-instant impact as he guided a fizzing Walcott corner into the net.

As Wenger said after the 4-4 against Newcastle and indeed after this game as well, “At 4-2 the panic sets in.” You could see Reading were now unsure. They didn’t know whether to stay deep and hold on to the lead or push forward and attempt the same tactics that got them the goals in the first place.

The momentum was with the Gunners and the Royals were often getting caught in a no man’s land. Some of their players were trying to push up while the others were staying deeper. Arsenal chased every ball, showed intense desire to make something happen, and pushed forward in numbers.

As time went on the Royals were pinned deeper and deeper into their own half but they were hanging on. Federici was forced into some fine saves while on other occasions the finish or the final ball didn’t match the build-up play. Nevertheless, it was a thrill-a-minute game with constant edge of the seat action that must have made both sets of fans tense; some in anticipation, the others in anxiety.

The third goal for the Gunners didn’t come till as late as the 89th minute when hopes of a dramatic comeback had began fading. It was another sizzling corner, this time it was Koscielny on the end of it.

Soon after, the Royals had a genuine shout for a second yellow against Koscielny. The ref had been lenient all through the game and let the defender get away with it in injury time. Not only would that have had an impact on Arsenal’s chances of scoring the equalizer, Arsenal would have been down to 10 for the duration of extra time if they did score the fourth.

The equalizer came deep in injury time. On a less dramatic day we might have heard more complaints about the time added on but perhaps Reading only have themselves to blame as their late substitution might have prompted the ref to go well beyond the four added minutes. When Walcott’s shot crossed the line the time on my screen showed 95:01. Don’t think many Gooners would have been happy if Reading had equalized with extra extra-time but I doubt anyone will complain now.

Once again it was the last kick of the half and this time, the comeback was complete. Now it was time for a turnaround.

Chamakh’s first goal of the night was a memorable one and not just for the fact that the Moroccan scored from outside the box. The build-up play was exquisite. It was a 41 second spell of possession in which 9 of the 10 outfield players passed the ball at least once. Starting with Coquelin’s sliding tackle wide on the right, and culminating in a strike that wasn’t a typical blast from distance like the angry, hopeful swing of an amateur’s arm, but a measured and well-placed blow from a professional who knew just how to strike the knockout punch. Walcott was the only guy who didn’t touch the ball which is ironical considering he scored three and set up the other three, playing a big part in all the other six goals.

Oddly enough, although it wasn’t really surprising, the momentum swung again. The Royals had nothing to lose anymore while the Gunners were catching their collective breath after an intense fight back.

Arsenal’s lead lasted 12 minutes or so when another ball played across the face of goal from Reading’s right resulted in a headed goal.

Thankfully for the Gunners, their momentum had not subsided completely and they were able to regain the extra gear. Arshavin’s run and shot was cleared off the line but Walcott was at hand to smash it in. Chamakh’s second was a tad cruel on the Royals but it was a neat finish. In fairness to the ref, he did go over the two minutes added on in extra-time giving Reading a chance to hit back.

We saw everything in this game. There were momentum swings, depths of despair, hope, glory, heart-break, defensive blunders, clinical finishing, and refereeing controversy. It was magical, maybe not so much for the Reading players, coaches, and fans at the end, but at least they know they won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

For Arsenal we saw the best and worst in the same game. We can’t infer much from individual performances after such a game because we are not likely to see a repeat in the near future. The spirit of the side was laudable. I’d certainly love to know who the “leaders” were on the pitch. So often, we hear Arsenal lacked leadership. This team was largely composed of fringe players and youngsters. Was there a leader on the pitch? Were they all leaders? Or is the lack of leadership just a lame, imprudent argument put forward when people can’t explain a flat performance?

As far as individuals go we saw a lot of quality and numerous weaknesses as well. I doubt many would have given Walcott or Arshavin high marks at the end of the first half, and few would dare berate them after the end of the game. There wasn’t anyone who was consistently outstanding and impeccable but the desire and spirit in the second half was top notch. It would have been easy to give up by the 89th minute. They didn’t. It would have been easy to start blaming each other for missed opportunities. They didn’t. Things just clicked for Arsenal and it was truly magical.

With the senior players we got what we’ve come to expect, and it was a real pleasure to see Chamakh back on the score-sheet. Among the youngsters, Eisfeld was the one who impressed me the most. He did have his share of mistakes, particularly in the final third, but on the whole he showed excellent technical quality and tactical awareness. Gnabry looked a little overawed and his touch deserted him at times, but he also played at a time when Reading had control of the game.

Coquelin didn’t do enough in the first half to show he’s ready to challenge for a first-team spot on a consistent basis. The Frenchman was rushed into many mistakes, the kind of which would be unacceptable in bigger, more important games. In fairness, he did an excellent job of sweeping in front of the defence and spreading play once Reading retreated. Frimpong seemed rusty and a touch too casual. Martinez made a couple of big saves but he could have done better for the second and third goals. His distribution will also have to improve. He showed promise for a youngster but I’d not be comfortable with the thought of him in goal for a first-team game.

All-in-all it was riveting game with a lot of action in the final third (Pardon the redundancy but I just had to say that again). It’s a shame one side had to bow out of the competition because you don’t have losers on such a night (unless you’re someone who gave up and stopped watching at point!)

In an era of short memories, this one might just last a lifetime. More importantly though, let’s hope it has a positive impact on the vital upcoming fixtures. There’s a comeback to be made on other, more prestigious fronts as well.


17 Responses to Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal: From Embarrassing To Inspiring And Onto Pure Magic

  1. Gerry Lennon says:

    My thoughts exactly. I did comment before the game that the inclusion of Yennaris might help keep the attacks down the flanks at bay. But you are right, it was the lack of an organiser that was the main problem.
    Eisfeld positiong was great. Gnabry could not hope to strut his stuff with the midfield misfiring so badly. Chamakh, mmm, the longer he played the better he got?
    I was taken by Arshavin for his commitment, despite the misplaced passes early on. A lot was asked of Miquel too. I hope he is not too badly injured, as he was already out on his feet by that stage.

    • santori says:

      Nah, no Yennaris.

      We needed to go forward. We were on the back foot most of the first half.

      We tend to dothis all too frequently almost as if we put on the proverbial ‘handbrakes’ because we’re afraid to concede 9which we did with aplomp.

      Sometimes, offense is the best defense.

      Rubbish defending first half.

      But good substitutions this time by the gaffer. Took off Frimpong (who was a passenger) and put on Eisfeld who was excellent.

      Said it before Thomas Eisfeld is going to push Ramsey to eventually take up the mantle of Thomas Rosicky. Excellent stuff from the young German.

  2. @storaxe says:

    Considering the “best and worst of Arsenal” part: i think it’s interesting to note that the goals Arsenal conceded were very typical for the team; 4/5 were crosses from out wide, and 1/5 was due to the midfield lacking shape when we lost the ball in a bad area. Some of the goals we scored, on the other hand, were very atypical to this side; 2/7 were corners, 1/7 was a Hail Mary into the box, 2/7 were shots from outside the box.

    Maybe that tells something about the nature of the game, but i rather think that that was the only way back in the game for Arsenal.

  3. Soglorious says:

    Desi, after the fourth goal, I couldnt do anything but to start laughing. Why? U may ask. Whatever is beyond crying for, the only thing to do is laugh. I stayed till the end of the match cos through thick and thin, I’ll for ever suport the team bt I WAS DISAPOINTED BCOS THEIR WAS NO ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE TEAM IN THE FIRST HALF. All in all, mindblowing game and truely the real loosers were those fans who left at the 35 minutes. C.O.Y.G

  4. Chinedu says:

    We nd 2 see more of chamakh & his missing rib – Giroud

  5. Scott (USA) says:

    Good read Desi. I am still amazed at what I saw yesterday. What a game. Eisfeld looked great. I think we will see more of him.

  6. Muleli Atse~arsene Modgel says:

    If there is someone who is never belated even in the tough times,then its me. Even the man utd 8-arsenal 2&yesterday even when that faithless/hopeless gunner &his wife{not sure}left the stadium i 4 the love of my team ARSENAL,did not have any thoughts of leaving. That is what is called being a gunner!!

  7. It’s good that Eisfeld impressed you the most. Well, I was impressed by him too. The way he strayed his passes, his technique and tactical awareness remind me of 17 year-old Jack Wilshere.

    Eisfeld only needs to bulk up a bit to deal with EPL physicality and of course game time. He could be as good as Jack.

    • santori says:

      I think we have 3 youth players currently that look promising for the first team :

      1) Gnabry. He was a bit in sixes and sevens with the defending (it will only do him good with the experience) but he showed flashes of what he could offer with his power, close control and direct running. If Walcott is sold on, Wenger will likely point to Ryo and him as eventual replacements. In the short term it will be a mistake to see him as a replacement as he is only 17. We will likely need another to come in who can give us more technical attributes out wide and possibly help back up Santi (in lieu of also replacing Andrei at some point)

      Ben Afra has been mentioned or say Konoplyanka. Even Affelay (albeit he will be that much older next season)

      2) Eisfeld. He looks very much in the mold of Rosicky to me. Quick on the turn and gets the game moving fast for us. I think he is in ramsey’s best position so the Welsh man is with very strong competition. Vive La revolution Allemagnia!

      3) Miquel. Had a bit of a torrid time first half but the Spaniard his a tenacious one and with good skill. Should take up Djourou’s spot by end of season if Djourou keeps on current flat trajectory.

      Then possibly depending on loan Ryo. We have a lot of pacy wingers at the moment out wide. what I think we need is a bit of no how and craft to work at breaking down tightly set teams and to complement Santi.

      Both Ryo and Gnabry should work in within the next 2-3 seasons.

      Also auditioning is LB back up to Gibbs. Santos has to up his game but in any case, he is long on age approaching 30 with the pace he has. Currently, our excellent LB factory is a bit dry.
      Sagna may also be an issue next summer.

      • amahgfur says:

        IMO, Gnabry is similar to Ryo in terms of his style of play, but Ryo has the advantage of having more game time in top flight due to his loan. If Ryo returns, I think Gnabry will most certainly come second in team order, or he might as well be sent on loan to get some experience.

        Re LB, I reckon Jernade Meade, based on his brief performance in the match against Reading, could develop into a good player.

  8. Glenn says:

    excellent post. I agree with you re Eisfeld. reminded me a lot of Paul Scholes. also thought the introduction of Giroud had a galvanizing impact on Chamakh. fingers crossed those two goals will give him the confidence to relaunch his Arsenal career. he’s certainly got the talent.

  9. Dianjuh says:

    Desi Desi…my FAVOURITE!
    I think arrsenal should put out on the pitch in ‘bigger’ games the kind of 2nd half performance onwards a little more often for one more reason (other than the obvious ones), for Desi to sum it up like he just did in this piece. Especially when he goes –

    ………. All-in-all it was riveting game with a lot of action in the final third (Pardon the redundancy but I just had to say that again) -………. hahaha awesome!!

    I wonder what(and how) you would write if we beat ManU at trafford convincingly? I hope Arsenal will give me a chance to find out.

    Keep it up!
    .

  10. redcore says:

    Great post again desi. one question for you.. The team was very effective in breaking down the defense after both strikers were on the pitch. Do you think we can use it in games like stoke at the emirates??

  11. santori says:

    Some thoughts on player performance :

    1) Martinez – Did OK but obviously still inexperienced. A number of good reaction saves and the exprience will do him well.

    2) Koscielny – All over the place first half. He’s like an OG magnet. But can’t fault him for making ammends with a couple of timely challenges and the goal. still you wonder with his temperament. Could have easily gotten a red for a second yellow (particularly the tug on Roberts) and severely handicapped us.

    3) Djourou/Miquel. I feel Djourou has plateaued (has he ven got to the top?) and Miquel should be close to taking that 4th spot @ CBack from him come end of season.

    4) Coquelin – A bit at sea first half (particularly with Frimpong, who needs honestly to continue on loan). But excellent thereafter. This 120 minutes is exactly what we need to give him a real go/stress test. As I’ve mentioned, I think he’s the closest we’ve got to an Arteta replacement at the moment. Whilst he isn’t quite as clinical with passing, he certainly has a lot of energy to burn (perhaps our only box to box albeit in this current role, rightly, he has to be more disciplined/restricted). Has a good eye for a pass over the top (Song’s signature) which is useful for the armoury.

    5) Eisfeld. Excellent from the youngster. Real give and go driving forward next to Coquelin when we went 4-2-4 or in many ways 4-1-5
    He’ll push Ramsey to succeed Rosicky in due time.

    Also though manager got it absolutely spot on with subs (albeit again, he waited uncomfortably 10 minutes too long for me). Good to see him going for an offensive approach in face of a defensive crisis particularly when he realised Reading were knackered and sitting back. PlanB?

    6) Arsharvin : As I mentioned, we should be playing him. He is an asset we have not utilized to our full advantage in the first team over the last 2 games. He is best in the little pocket behind the main striker but he has shown plenty of professionalism and desire. I mentioned last League cup match that he looked hungry and that he had slimmed down. Perhaps there’s no better passer of the ball when on song than Arsharvin in tight situations but his balls are just so beautifully weighted and his vision is immaculate. Maybe not quite as tidy on the ball as Santi but I think we will benefit from BOTH men on the pitch at the same time in certain (tight) situations.

    7) Walcott – Again, why are we not using our assets? Honestly, we should have sold him last summer. If not, we should not be leaving him out on the periphery. I say use him to the max till January. Unfortunately, the impressive performance will only strengthen his team’s hand in the contract situation so it does not look likely that we will keep him.

    Which we need to think hard about considering he is now looking the finish article with pace AND finishing (albeit again, he is likely to do better when afforded the luxury of space)

    I’m still iffy about him centrally deployed but I think he’ll do a better job for us than Ramsey wide (particularly with Sagna supporting). We might need him against United.

    8) Giroud – Didn’t expect to see him play so many minutes but it was very useful for him to come on and get that goal. A real menace with his strength and not afraid to shoot at first instance. Excellent work and I think many more goals to come judging by his workrate and quick thought.

    9) Chamakh- As I mentioned before, we needed to start him. The goals will do his confidence a world of good. More so, it will do us a world of good with otherwise just Giroud up front as a target man, We may well need Chamakh in at least till Jan and he looks resigned (as does Arsharvin) to the fact that the best bet for his career atthe moment is not the pipe but to work hard and play well for us. A bonus surely.

    Also good to see Wenger play both big men to good effect (thanks partially to a poor Reading defense) but surely an option. Good set piece (crosses from corner) by Walcott (a notch above Santi I might add, and I say that with all due respect) to fully utilise the big men and their aerial threat.

    If we can get 10 goals each from Walcott, Giroud, Chamakh, Podolski, Gervinho, maybe another 10 from our defenders and 10 from our midfield, we will be doing very well, so long as Wenger/Bould/Banfield gets back to working on the appalling defense/lack of concentration/complacency.

    Horror Defending…Come back from the Dead.

    Why I love the Arsenal!

    Happy Halloween!

  12. amahgfur says:

    Arsenal Come to Indonesia for next summer pre-season! I’m so delighted!

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