Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday November 13 2007
Having drawn our last three games, bookended by a disjointed team selection and performance in Praha, I was somewhat concerned that Arsenal may have lost their rhythm of late. Therefore, I was not exactly brimming with confidence upon my arrival at the Madejski Stadium. A few pints of Courage were sunk with Vital's resident dieting guru FatOldDave prior to the match, where the wise one was frustrated in his attempt to have a punt on a 3-0 victory for the Arsenal.
Reading were always going to set up to be cautious after last year's 4-0 drubbing, and were also obviously keen to avert conceding an early goal as they did in this fixture last year, the hosts were swift out of the blocks. Arsenal were allowed possession, but were met with something akin to the Maginot Line across Reading's 18 yard box. Despite the Royals' dogedness, I was unconcerned, United set up in a similar fashion (albeit with greater numbers on their counter attacks), Arsenal will always create chances. Sure enough, we made one about half way through the second half. Alex Hleb dispossessed James Harper inside Reading's half, Fabregas fed ravenously on the scaps and put Adebayor through on goal, but his attempt clipped the outside of the post when he really should have scored.
It was on a rare forray forward that Reading were finally caught just before half time. Like a sniper in the bush, waiting patiently for its pray to appear, the Gunners struck. Almunia collected a corner, bowled it out to Eboue, who raced down the right and played in Alex Hleb, the Belarussian cut the ball back, beating the advancing Hahnemann and Matty Flamini unceremoniously bundled the ball home. A goal right on half time, absolute magic. From here on in, there was only ever one winner. Reading had to abandon their defensive tendencies in search of an equaliser. But with the back four in fine fettle, it was left for Arsenal's league of playmakers to take centre stage. Hleb, Rosicky, Fabregas and Adebayor took over, playing mesmerising triangles that left Reading chasing shadows. So often crowded out in the first half, Adebayor found space a plenty to run into, and the aforementioned midfield trio were more than capable of finding him, with Eboue supporting brilliantly down the right. A second arrived soon after, and the goal was truly a work of Athenian art. In fact, there should be a brass rubbing made of Adebayor's finish and it should be hung in the Louvre. Rosicky worked the ball from the left and played the ball into Fabregas, the Spaniard's deft touch played in Adebayor in the tightest of spaces, but the Togolese talisman provided a side footed finish of nonchalant beauty. A man who has gone nearly two months without a goal really had no right to execute such a precise finish.
As the Gunners' ran amok, the supporters found some of their best form this season. Teasing Reading, whose earlier chants of 'Eng-er-land' were juxtaposed by the ice cool wit of the travelling Gooners. 'You need more foreigners' didn't sit too well with the local yokels, who were literally punching the air in anger at our national mutiny. Sensing their advantage, the Gooners' swiftly followed up with the South Paw jab, 'Have you ever seen England play like this?' With the home support baying for blood, the hammer blow was landed, 'Are you England in disguise?' We have tirelessly defended the patriation of our squad on these pages and the blogosphere over, but when it came down to it, our sense of militance and the shortcomings of the national team were perfectly encpasulated by good old terrace banter. I always smiled wryly when United fans sang, 'Argentina' in protest at the disgusting treatment David Beckham received in the wake of England's 98 World Cup exit. I think we have tired so much of being blamed for the pitfalls of a laughable football association and the most over rated collection of players since Stevie Gerrard's last cocktail party, that we have reached a similar stage of identity. I'm a huge Sex Pistols fan and a quote from John Lydon has always stuck with me, 'we managed to piss off everyone we were f*****g fed up with.' I empathised with that feeling hugely last night.
A killjoy linesman curtailed further joy, Fabregas found Rosicky on the left, who laid in a perfectly weighted pass to Adebayor, he skipped around the keeper with applomb but was incorrectly ruled offside. My mind began to wander to Sonko's foolhardy pre match assertion that he would kick Adebayor out of the game. To be fair, he didn't seem to attempt it, but there agin I'm not sure he got within five yards of Ade all night! A deserved third did arrive. Eboue played Hleb in in the channel and he walked past Hahnemann with the air of a man strolling in the park, before eventually firing into the net. Sonko nearly cleared the ball off the line, but he couldn't kick that properly either. Shame.
The Gunners' attacked at will, with Hleb and Fabregas once again chief architects, I've a feeling Cesc's fifth booking of the season may have been slighlty premeditated with a home fixture against Wigan on the horizon. Diarra came on and showed some nice touches, suggesting that he could plug that gap. But with the clock running down the away side took their foot off the pedal, and blotted their copybook with a sloppy goal. Murty's cross from the right should have been headed out to saftey by Eboue, but he kept the ball alive by heading it up into the air, Fae sprung to head the ball onto the post, Hunt hooked it goalwards and the ball ricocheted off of Gallas and Nicky Shorey prodded into an open goal. Shorey had earlier gone close hitting the post with a free kick, but in reality this was a very one sided contest. Having been frustrated in an attempt to bet on 3-0, Dave might have been the only Gooner who breathed a sigh of relief! I must also relay another anecdote about a wedding party that attended the match in the Arsenal enclosure, bride and groom decked out in their wedding finery. The Reading fans found this most amusing, with a volley of inquisitive chants about the bride's weight and sexual preferences. Not to be outdone, the blushing bride responded by revealing her breasts in riposte. How many brides can say that on their wedding day, that three thousand men simultaneoulsy accused her of over indulging in anal sex before revealing her norks for all to see? That's the Arsenal for you, class all the way through the club.LD.
Date:Tuesday November 13 2007
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