Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

That was an enjoyable performance and a useful result. It was an eminently winnable game so the result wasn’t the main attraction, even though it was vital, but the quality of the performance certainly was.

It was, as expected, a very open game. Reading tend to drop deep without really having the discipline and attention to detail needed for parking the bus. They’ve conceded the most shots and, after this game, the most goals as well. Even by their standards the first half was dreadful. Arsenal can be lethal when allowed to play and that was the cardinal mistake McDermott’s side made.

Starting early on, when Oxlade-Chamberlain forced a save just after a minute had passed, the Gunners established a comfortable presence on the ball. The hosts often had 9 or 10 bodies back in their defensive third but were getting nowhere near the ball. It was only a matter of time before Arsenal scored.

Although, having seen the Gunners struggle to find the winner against Bradford despite complete dominance late in the game, it was understandable that the period before the first goal had a touch of anxiety about it. Reading did create two very good opportunities early on. In the 8th minute Pogrebnyak played a neat one-two and got into a great position in the box after Cazorla was caught ball-watching. His square ball was missed by one teammate while the other couldn’t hit the target. In the 11th minute a simple long ball and flick-on routine resulted in a corner that was headed just over.

In a game where both sides were going to get plenty of chances to score, those misses were always going to prove costly. Considering the fragile nature of the Gunners’ confidence at the moment, an early goal for the Royals would have made this more of a contest.

Podolski scored the opener just before the quarter-hour mark. The German’s first touch with his weaker foot was superb, the finish that of a natural goalscorer. Same can be said for the run into the box. To me the most important part of that move was Arteta’s tackle on the right flank just inside the Arsenal half. Sagna was up the pitch and that ball had to be won. After that it was just too easy, Reading players never got anywhere near the ball.

There were still some vulnerabilities in the Arsenal defence. Vermaelen’s desperate but timely clearance in the 28th minute prevented a tap in.

The second goal cushion came from a long spell of possession. By my count, Arsenal had the ball for 44 seconds and made 15 passes in the build-up. Only Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t touch the ball in that period. The key moment was again from Arteta as his raking cross-field pass found Podolski in acres of space. Usually, the Arsenal wingers are double-teamed by opponents sitting deep but this time the German had ample space to find a cross. Cazorla’s diving header was excellent. It could easily have gone off target.

The third was even better . It was close to a minute of possession and had 16 passes. While the previous one saw most of the possession in the Arsenal half, this one was created right in front of the deep-lying defence. And thus, it was Szczesny, Mertesacker, and Vermaelen who didn’t touch the ball in the build-up. Once again Cazorla’s finish was impressive.

It could easily have been 2-5 in the first half itself but 0-3 seemed a fair reflection of the game. Federici deserves some credit for preventing his side from being embarrassed.

Reading’s defending against Arsenal’s stronger left flank was probably the worst I’ve seen this season from any team in any league. But in general, as the spells of possession before the second and third goals show, the Royals just tamely surrendered possession and territory.

Reading came out with greater purpose in the second half, or at least tried to. In the opening 10 minutes they had 58 percent possession as the Gunners seemed to take their foot off the gas. Neither side created much in that period.

Cazorla completed his hat-trick with another well taken goal. Podolski’s awareness and selflessness was commendable as he squared the ball when he could have taken a shot. Again a vital part of the goal came early on in the move when Sagna won an aerial duel from a long punt by the Keeper.

If the Gunners were in the cruise mode at the start of the second half they almost went to sleep after the fourth. Two goals were gifted through multiple avoidable individual errors.

Thankfully, Reading just didn’t have the quality to capitalize on the momentum or to keep their goal secure. Walcott scored the fifth and settled the tie. Again the build-up had 16 passes and about 46 seconds of possession.

On the whole it was a comfortable win against a weak team that was having one of its worst days. The way Arsenal were able to patiently build their moves with long spells of passing and possession is a good indication of that. They try the same in every game but most teams don’t allow this amount of time or space on or off the ball. Same can be said for the manner in which crosses found unmarked bodies in the box.

I don’t see any reason to draw too many conclusions from this one. We know this team has attacking quality. Big wins against Southampton, Coventry, and Spurs have shown that in the past. But we’ve to see whether they can play to their potential on a consistent basis when the opponents don’t roll over. This game didn’t tell us anything about that.

I’m not even sure if this will be a good confidence boost for the squad because, as mentioned earlier, we’ve been here before. In the preview I mentioned the run of games during the holiday period. They’re perfect for building the momentum after such a win. Let’s see…

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Decent game on the whole. Dealt with a couple of tricky aerial balls and showed composure when receiving back passes. Could he have done better for either goal? Difficult to blame the Keeper when he’s left one-v-one but the top class ones do make a difference. Also added to the tension with a nervous flap just after the second went in.

Sagna: Standard Sagna game, steady and efficient. Nothing really stood out in a positive or negative way.

Mertesacker: Kept things simple at the back, made the clearances when he had to. His slow reaction speed is visible when a threat appears out of nowhere. Was caught on his heels for both the goals although neither was directly his fault. It’s just one of those things you notice … the opponents are cutting through the defence with ease while a central defender is quite a way away from the play. This is not exactly a criticism, just an observation about a natural weakness he has. All players have their flaws.

Vermaelen: Made a big clearance in the 28th minute and other useful ones throughout the game. Was at least partially at fault for the second goal. Should have done a better job of tackling Robson-Kanu.

Gibbs: He’s been getting into useful attacking positions throughout the season. In this game he had good end product in the form of two assists, just like he had two against Southampton (don’t know if technically shots that lead to own goals are considered as assists.) Needs to make a decisive contribution in tougher games as well. Defensively he remains a tad weaker than the rest. The two moves in the 8th and 11th minutes came down his flank, played Pogrebnyak onside in the 28th minute, and gave the ball away for Reading’s first.

The defenders didn’t have a great challenge as the weak opponents were having one of their worst days. Still there were some gaps apparent and Reading could have scored more. Many of the old problems are resurfacing as the Gunners go in search of greater bite in attack.

Arteta: Another massive game from the Spaniard. Was a big help to the defence with numerous interceptions, tackles, and clearances. Also did a good job of spreading play and was involved in the build-up of all the goals. Should have done better to stop Robson-Kanu to prevent Reading’s second.

Cazorla: Easily the MotM. Took his goals really well, also created quite a few chances for his teammates, and was involved in play all over the pitch. Clearly, the best player on the park. But the big question is, can he prove decisive on a week in, week out basis?

Wilshere: Another one who was involved in the build-up of many goals and often played high up the pitch after interchanging positions with Cazorla. Another one who has to make this sort of an impact on a consistent basis. Was partly at fault for Reading’s first goal as he wasn’t alert to the possibility of a mistake. Has to learn that playing that deep brings unique defensive challenges, particularly in moments when he’s the only midfielder protecting the central defence. Must also control turnovers and other avenues for losing possession.

The midfield did a decent job of protecting the defence but Arteta and Wilshere will probably agree they could have done better for the two goals. It was a stroll in the park for them as far as circulating possession and creating chances goes.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Had a couple of shots on target and put in some balls into dangerous areas but on the whole he’ll have to learn to make his presence count in a more meaningful way as his experienced teammates showed. Against such an opponent he should be picking up goals and/or assists. Wasn’t a bad game by any means but it was too easy.

Walcott: Hmmm… Theo in a central role? Well, if anything, this game should show him that in an Arsenal team goals and assists can come from anywhere! Just look at Podolski’s contribution. Took his chance well late in the game but it was an average outing from the Englishman. Passing and touch was surprisingly good but he missed a glorious one-v-one early in the game, also had numerous shots that were either off target or straight at an opponent. I have a feeling he’d have made a bigger impact if he’d started on the right. But if there was any game where Arsene could have afforded the experiment of starting him through the middle, this was it. Has a lot to do before he can convince me he deserves a consistent run through the middle but that performance should earn him another chance somewhere down the line, maybe even in the next game.

Podolski: Excellent work for the first goal, good assists for the second and fourth. He looks a different player when he gets a chance to run at opponents or finds some space in the final third. Another one who has to produce more often. Decent defensive shift but his lack of awareness played Kebe onside for the second goal. Should have stopped his tracking run earlier. It seemed like a case of good intentions and effort but bad understanding with other players and awareness of the game situation.

The attacking players had an enjoyable day. However, the fact that so many of Arsenal’s chances came via crosses from wide areas tells me that this was as much down to the opponent’s weaknesses as it was down to the strength of Arsenal’s attack.

Subs: Ramsey had a decent outing, Coquelin didn’t get much time, Giroud should have scored when put through.

Wenger: I still have a feeling Arsene doesn’t quite know what his best attacking combination is. This game would have told him some things but not much. The Walcott experiment is interesting, particularly considering no one’s really made the role their own. Must be gutted by the manner of the goals conceded but does he have the answers?! Perhaps the better question is, can he find the answers that have eluded him despite numerous efforts?

19 Responses to Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Dianjuh says:

    Hey Desi,

    I agree, it was a commendable performance. Really should boost our players.

    But I mentioned in your thoughts and tactics that if you play players in their natural positions, you get free-flowing football. At least three-quarter of the line up today was expressing themselves naturally (except for Podolski, he is not a winger but had a really good game, but Reading? i doubt he would perform any less anywhere in the front three. Then Arteta, again he had a splendid game but there wasn’t much to do sitting deep as we were on the attack most of the game so he was playing more of a CM than a CDM).
    Don’t get me wrong, we did well, but its against Reading people. I want us to aim higher. We need to think in terms of competing against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, Dortmund, Manchester teams etc. The midfield for me other than an enforcer (like Mvilla/Capoue) is doing fine, the defense? I do not know why we cant keep clean sheets when we are in control of games, after all, we are a ball possession team, so if we are three up, then a clean sheet surely is a must. The attack is where all the imbalance is. I agree with you Desi, Wenger hasn’t quite gotten the best attacking combination yet. Hew has two (or more) options – Get a winger (Navas/Holtby/gotze etc) and move Walcott to the middle. That way we have Giroud, Walcott and Podolski to rotate.
    Or get a striker, real finisher to rotate with Giroud (lopez, Ba etc) and quit trying Gervinho in the middle. I am tempted by the first option as I want to keep Walcott, plus Gotze, Cazorla and Wilshere? What a dream that would be!!!

    Enough of that.

    I will enjoy this win, as I pretty much do not know what they will give me next. Cazorla Hat-trick? Icing on the cake!!!

    • santori says:

      It’s the midfield that has plagued us, granted we may need an additional striker (preferably one with speed and technicality without losing the physical presence)

      Little steps. Its been building since WBA with Jack getting more familiar with the Spaniards.(Maybe he’s learning the language)

      Reading may be poor but considering we just lost to Bradford, there are no guarantees except when we turn up and turn up we did. Overall, far better off ball movement (Chamberlain was particularly dynamic but also Walcott and Jack)

      If we could have dispatched these sort of lesser lights in the PL, we would not be in current position.

  2. santori says:

    Finally !! An enjoyable game to watch in weeks!!!!!!!!

    Wenger should know his best midfield by now :

    Santi-Jack-Arteta. They are starting to click well (considering Jack has barely returned from lengthy lay off) and clicked well since last league match against WBA. The Bradford game being an aberration since the midfield was poorly composed which partially illustrate our weakness in depth but then does not explain why the returning Rosicky could have been employed earlier.

    With the midfield working (and despite Reading’s poor defense), the team is a different beast.

    Poor lapse of concentration for the two goals conceded agreed and something that needs (to have been) cut out but lets not also forget that we have a pretty decent goal difference 15 (third best). Considering we have struggled to create in certain games (again IMO poor team composition by the gaffer), the defense has not been quite as shabby as many make it out to be.

    With regards Walcott through the middle, agree with you that this was as circumstance due to the porous nature and open space afforded by our opponent.

    Against a tighter defense, we would likely be better with the physical strength of Giroud or for that matter the quick strike ability of Podolski (first goal very well taken from an awkward ball)

    I think we will see better play from the team in the next bunch of league matches provided the midfield remains the same.

    And 2 points of Spurs, within a sniff of third. Where’s the crisis. Yes a bit more consistency please but signs have been there with WBA that we are beginning to get to better grips with the engine room.

    Well done.

    • Redcore says:

      Absolutely agree. I dont mind seeing Arsenal lose. But after years of seeing our midfield out play the opposition seeing the Arsenal midfield in the first few games of this season was painful.
      Now it shows signs of clicking but I will reserve my judgement like Desi. Readings pressing was very ineffective and we need to pass tougher tests before we can claim that our midfield is set.
      Somehow I still think we need to replace Song. A tough tackling midfielder with good passing range / ball carrying ability like Diaby. If Diaby cant be counted upon we need to find a CM like that. Santi – Jack – Arteta – TR7 are the velvet glove – we are still missing the Iron fist..

      • Cupsui says:

        Well said Redcore. Great game and well played…but really that was as poor a performance from an arsenal opposition in the first half as i have seen in many many a year!!

        My biggest worry is still what we do when its not working? what do we do if we go a goal down or 0-0 at home and the chances aren’t coming and the opposition is holding its shape?

        Wenger has a plan and when the players rock up and things click its a hella good plan! we play some of the best ball in Europe. But if its not clicking the old man has looked a bit short of options. For 1 i don’t agree with this ordinal substituting after 65mins?! I’m sure he has some tricks up his sleeves but i hope the pressure he is under is not distracting him from sorting them out!!

        I must say though i did really like Theo’s performance. He missed a 1v1 but took a good chance, got into great positions actually held off defenders with back to goal. I was impressed. Well in lad. I would like to see a bit of 4-4-2 even 4-2-4 late on with theo and giroud if we are chasing rather than just putting in rambo keeping the same system and hoping it just eventually pays off!

        We really need theo to sign but with everyday passing i see him leaving more and more. A massive worry!!

        Well done gooners but keep the focus and drive cause they ain’t gonna be that easy again!!

  3. grumpygunner says:

    Don’t know why he is out left. Likely more comfortable than having Ox or Walcott but Podolski to me should also have a go in the middle. He is very efficient setting up for a shot and boy does he have one!

  4. Spec says:

    Enjoyable win Desi even though at Reading. Individually we know this team has got talent what they need is the consistency. Walcott through the middle? At least he looked more confident than anyone we’ve played there this season. Lets see how the manager decides to use him in the next say 5 games. Great night for Santi, well taken goals.

    • Scott (USA) says:

      I thought Walcott was very effective. Although not clinical in the finish except for his late goal he did seem to give us a presence at the striker position. Very much a threat. I thought he looked at home in that position more than on the wing. Not sure if this will work against a real defense but we will see. Ox was very good wide. really pushed the tempo and got in some crosses and got us a few corners.

  5. 2GunnsUp says:

    The trio of Podolski/Walcott/Ox upfront proved to be effective against Reading and if they keep playing together they can find a good balance. Theo usually makes incisive runs than pushes us forward with more urgency and thats exactly what we need at the moment.

    Wenger can be very rigid and late to force necessary changes so i hope he learns from this game and not screw it up.

    This team badly needs a natural DMF.

  6. teddy says:

    great analysis

  7. Itile says:

    A good result at least a confidence booster. But considering the history and kind of team we played against, it’s nothing to pride about. 3 points, heroic Santis, lack of clean sheets all enjoyable?

  8. chris says:

    Against stronger teams I would suggest we rotate Arteta Wilshere and Cazorla. This would keep them fresh and leave room for a ball winning defensive midfielder. If we have one ?

    Keep playing Oxlade wide right, let him settle down for a while. Theo may be leaving anyway – which is probably the way his agent would make the biggest killing (!)

    • Cupsui says:

      Thats a really good point. Its games like this we need a trio like jack-mikael-santi…against the big teams i would say we need another strong midfielder in there (Dare i Capoue/m’vila). Santi could even be pushed to the wing to help with possession and also the fact he can still play very direct.

      Lets just say 99% of people on this site at least agree we need a big, strong, defensive presence, box to box midfielder since Abou Diaby cannot stay on the park!

  9. Scott (USA) says:

    Nice result. Pass completion % was fantastic for Arsenal. But Arsenal continue to make mistakes on the devesive end. Lack of focus. Gibbs ? How you put that ball to the middle with 3 Reading players standing there is beyond me. Reading was dead up until that point , why give them life? Sorry but these are defensive blunders that have killed us all season. Beside that, great to see Ramsey on the bench which helped with the smooth midfield play(also no pressure from Reading). Walcott as the striker and Ox and Pod out wide was is a nice set up. Fun game to watch and glad Arsenal took care of business but Reading is not a good team. They will be relegated so I will be reserved in my hope that we are playing better. Good game but Reading’s defense is a train wreck on it’s best day. P.S.Santi, Arteta and Wilshere were pure class.

  10. Scott (USA) says:

    “defensive” maybe I should just have my coffee black in the morning instead of The Irish coffee….

  11. Aussie Jack says:

    I`m still not at ease when watching Arsenal like I used to be in the days when it was six passes and Wham!. Today it`s 16 passes and your nerves are on edge, especially when they fluff it, as the often do. They play too tight for me.
    The defence still needs to be strengthened, Mertesacker does not have the pace or the reflexes for the Premier League and never will.

    Up front, let me say Walcott is a winger or nothing.

    Wilshere is tryng too hard, needs to find a comfortable rythmn, other wise we have arguably the best midfield in the comp.

    January (if they can be found) left back, centre back, defensive midfielder and a STRIKER.

    • cupsui says:

      @ Aussie jack…
      you are quite a critique of Mertesacker. I would say he has had a brilliant season. He may have cost a couple goals but there are ZERO defenders in the EPL that have not. The number of crucial interventions and tackles he makes far outweighs that. His timing of the tackle is second to none in the EPL and right up there with the best in the world. And he is not as big a sloth as the media make him out to be!

      Don’t forget despite all the media who-har arsenal have the 3rd best defence one goal behind chelsea who have a game in hand. Although he had a better game i think Vermaelen is our weakest defender right now. He looks to be improving but his positioning is where i feel he lets himself down…but i think we can be very happy with the quality of our 3 top CDs.

      I think a young LB (unless meade is the real deal), CDM/big box to box midfielder (capoue/M’vila) and yes a striker we don’t need another central defender. Capoue/M’Vila can both fill in there if needed

  12. Nick from Portugal says:

    Good performance of course against a team that were verging on the suicidal in terms of space surrendered to us. I thought Arteta was great, liked Theo up top, Ox better, Cazorla extraordinary at times and Podolski a bully but we need more of the same on the cowpatch that is Wigan and then stiff Pardew at the Emirates where we tend to play nervously in front of our own this the best team? Not quite, I would be trying to bring Rosicky in somewhere..

  13. Tee Song says:

    Fair comments although I think you’re being a little harsh on Podolski for playing Kebe onside. Sure, in an ideal world, your left winger would have the defensive awareness to track the offensive player while at the same time being aware of whether the Reading player’s pass was going to be timed properly to beat the offside trap while at the same time knowing where the defenders’ line was. I’m happy that he showed the commitment and awareness to simply track the run which is the most important thing. Arshavin would’ve been standing at the halfway line with his hands on his hips, sucking air, waiting for his teammates to bring him the ball to kick off after they’d taken it out the back of the net.

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