That was probably the most one-sided game I’ve seen Arsenal involved in this season.
Wenger went with Gervinho on the right and Cazorla on the left with Rosicky taking up the attacking midfield berth. It was a well-balanced line-up that combined fluently and destroyed a tactically disjointed opponent.
In the preview I’d mentioned the difference between Reading’s style of play under McDermott and the way Adkins’ Southampton played. The question was –
Will Adkins stick to the style the players are used to or will he succeed in changing their approach soon after taking over?
Clearly, the manager wants to stick to his principles and it’s hard to fault him for that. But equally evident was the discomfort of the Reading players in this new system.
For instance, they were trying to play out from the back but there were just too many technical mistakes for that to work. The Gunners sensed this and, for once this season, their pressing high up the pitch caused havoc.
There were other problems for Reading as well. Not least of which was their inability to bring the ball into the attacking third on a consistent basis as the use of the long ball towards the target man and into the channels was curtailed. It left them without and outlet an constantly under siege.
The visitors also seemed unprepared from a defensive point of view. Their back four, particularly the central defenders, are used to dropping really deep. But their first line was fairly high up the pitch. The gap between the lines was massive and the players didn’t seem to have a real pressing strategy. There was no pressure on the first ball out from the defence and the attacking runs were not tracked diligently as the players never seemed certain of their roles. As a result the Gunners found plenty of time and space even on the edge of the Reading penalty box.
You could say that everything that could go wrong for a relegation contender after a managerial change resulting in a clash of philosophies did go wrong for the visitors.
That said, it would be unfair to take credit away from the Arsenal performance. Reading were very poor, possibly the worst side Arsenal have played this season, but the game could still have been very different had the Gunners not performed as cohesively and at as high a tempo as they did.
The three midfielders and the two wide players moved around the pitch displaying telepathic understanding and some exceptional technical skills. But for many desperate blocks, some near misses, and fractionally below par execution in the final third, Arsenal could have been in the double digits in this game.
Such a positive attacking display after two massive wins based on defensive solidity does bode well for the future but we will have to see it repeated a few times before we can ascertain just how much of it was down to the opposition’s weakness.
The early goal must have helped settle the nerves but it was promising to see that the team did not drop back after taking the lead. Signs of uncertainty in the players’ mind are easy to spot and usually spur the opponents on. On Saturday, the Gunners just went from strength to strength as time went by.
The only sore spot was the goal conceded. Wenger phrased a slightly irritating observation in a mildly amusing but telling manner,
The regret you have is that there were more goals in this game than the number of goals we scored.
It came from a back post cross. Monreal should have done better but in general more should have been done to block the cross.
There were a few isolated moments in the game when one also got a feeling the other players took it easy and didn’t help the back four as diligently as they should have. These were few and far between, came at a time when the game felt safe, and Reading just didn’t have enough quality or cohesiveness in their display to make anything out of it, but there were some signs of sloppiness.
Arsenal have not a built any kind of a strong run this season. They will have to do so now if Chelsea and or Tottenham are to be reined in. Hopefully, against better teams we will see the unwavering discipline of the previous two games rather than the marginal lack of concern that was occasionally felt in an otherwise enjoyable and impressive win.
Fabianski: Fairly straightforward game for the Pole. Couldn’t have done anything for the goal. Seemed confident with his catching and with the ball at his feet.
Sagna: Decent game on the flank with noticeable attacking contribution including a couple of delicious crosses. Should possibly have done better to prevent the cross/assist.
Mertesacker: Had a fairly comfortable outing at the heart of the defence. Only one sliding block stands out of the largely mundane challenges he faced.
Koscielny: Busier of the two defenders as Pogrebnyak often drifted to his side to receive passes. Still most of the work demanded of him was routine and unremarkable. One last gasp sliding tackle does come to mind in an otherwise training-like outing.
Monreal: Didn’t make too many forward bursts but choice of runs and decisions on the ball were spot on. Should really have done better to challenge for the cross that resulted in the Reading goal.
I thought the full-backs did a decent job of providing the width when the wide players consistently drifted inside. Of course, Reading’s inability to solidly defend the central areas also played it’s part, but clever play from the full-backs can free up the notional wingers and add to the fluidity of the side.
The central defenders had as easy a game as they’ll play at this level. Can’t read much into their performances.
Arteta: Another possession master class from the Spaniard and a useful shift in front of the defence as he was often the only midfielder staying deep. I really enjoyed the chipped long pass for Giroud (penalty shout). Arsenal have missed creativity from deeper areas and hopefully we’ll see more of this. Composed penalty at the end.
Rosicky: Was roaming all over the pitch and contributed to the fast tempo with his clever passing and movement. Didn’t pick up any assists or goals but was part of everything Arsenal did going forward.
Ramsey: Had more freedom in this game that he’s had in most games when featuring in a deeper role. Was often involved with play in and around the penalty box. Had a couple of appreciable goal attempts and was close to picking up an assist or two. Despite that he didn’t neglect his defensive duties and was often responsible for winning back possession.
Cazorla: MotM in my book and easily the best player on the pitch. Started on the left but, as Wenger used to do with Arshavin, he had a free role and popped up all over pitch. He was hard to mark and would have been tough to contain for any side leave alone one that was tactically confused. Sweet strike for the goal, should probably get the assist for the first one, and a real joy to watch throughout the game.
The midfielders had an excellent game, possibly providing the perfect expression of Wenger’s vision of the game. Their movement was constant and unpredictable yet they never seemed out of sync. Their control and accuracy was exceptional but it didn’t come at the cost of speed. Penetrating runs and defence splitting passes were nicely complimented by energetic pressing and defensive positioning.
Giroud: Worked rate and movement was again very good. His lung-bursting sprint for his goal typified that. Was constantly involved with play with little movements whether coming short, or dragging a defender wide, or looking for a run in behind. Still has much room for improvement but progress is also visible.
Gervinho: Opened the scoring with the early goal that would have done any poacher proud. Also picked up two assists which looked like simple passes but involved good judgement and engaging of defenders. Another players whose work rate was excellent. Among the pacy wide players at Wenger’s disposal, he seems to have the most tactically developed thought process. This can be seen from his movement and the choices he makes on and off the ball. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of frustrating moments that showed major areas of improvement. On the whole a mixed-bag from the Ivorian.
The forwards had a very enjoyable and memorable outing against a defensive unit that was all over the place. They read the opponent’s weakness astutely and made good use of the spaces and time available to them.
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain produced a good run to win the penalty although it could easily have been given as a free-kick on the edge of the box. Gibbs wasn’t really tested but it was surprising to see him and not Vermaelen coming on as the Englishman wasn’t fit during the week. Podolski seems to have lost his starting spot and we’ll have to see if he can work hard to gain it back.
Wenger: Apart from the goal conceded this performance must have given the manager a great deal of joy and cause for optimism, at least in the short term. Rosicky down the middle and Cazorla on the left in a completely free role worked beautifully. Given Walcott’s drop in form, Gervinho’s decisive contribution gives him greater options. It was also encouraging to see all the midfielders take turns to drop back and bring the ball forward. In some games opponents have found it easier to shackle Arsenal by pressing Arteta. Flexibility shown by this midfield can be useful against better organized opponents. Barring further unfortunate injuries, this might be his best eleven for the final few weeks.Follow @goonerdesi