Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 20 2008
van Persie looks to have his sharpness back, Gilberto has regained some form, Song looks to be a find at centre half, we're scoring deflected goals. That's right, it's all coming together at the right time! In all seriousness, this game wasn't going to tell us anything about the side we didn't already know. Reading were beaten before they took to the pitch and did not look like a side in desperate need of points. We took to the Grove with masses of empty seats embarrassingly visible. I cannot tolerate this awful attotude of 'oh well, we're not going to win anything, it's on TV, it's only Reading, early kick off blah, blah, blah.' These people are not supporters and are better off staying away in my opinion. I have often remarked on these pages that I will often goand see Millwall, my local team, with friends in a bid to appreciate what we have. Spoiled, fairweather fans should be made to do the same. The club gave out noisy, foldout fan thingies which made for an even worse atmosphere in an already moribund Grove, as scores of children and two over excited Germans to my left thudded them excitedly. This made for an embarrassing, contrived, showy American style clapping which makes me weep. Atmosphere at football is a thing of the past unless you are with a hardcore away contingent. If you're not an Arsenal fan and you're reading this preparing to mock, please don't kid yourself into thinking your club is any different.
With the pressure off, the game had a distinct end of season feel to it in the opening twenty minutes. Arsenal looking and Reading looking incapable of producing a contest worth watching. But after an intitial malaise, Arsenal began to dominate proceedings. It was Alex Hleb who was the catalyst. With Reading bizarrely playing a high line, Hleb put a through ball in for the marauding Fabregas, but Bikey put him under pressure as he raced through on goal, and the Spaniard could only prod tamely at Hahnemann. Walcott began to stamp his class on the game as well, he played a neat one two with Gallas on the edge of the area, his searing pace visibly frightening Reading's backline, but his pull back was cleared in the six yard area. Arsenal began to turn the screw as Robin van Persie's free kick was touched wide by Hahnemann. Song headed the resulting corner just wide. A gilt edged opportunity presented itself moments later, when Toure's cross saw Adebayor miscue a free header. But the Togonator made amends when an extremely fatigued Toure supplied the ammunition again, clipping in a sumptuous cross, which Adebayor controlled beautifully, sauntered past Sonko and provided a composed finish to break the deadlock. That was Ade's 27th goal of the season, yet he still attracts savage criticism. Unbelievable. My friends and I discussed this phenomenon amongst Arsenal fans for finding scapegoats when I remarked that Senderos has not played in any of our domestic defeats this season. Gallas, Eboue, Senderos and Ade all come in for it and I think it stems from people's embryonic impressions of players. All of the aforementioned were written off too quickly, and when things go wrong people revert to deafult setting and criticise these players because they desperately want to be proved right.
Reading collapsed at this point and Arsenal went into cruise control. The home side effectively played with three upfront, Adebayor central, Walcott pushing up from the right and van Persie sitting off, showing touches of true class. van Persie managed ninety minutes and rode a few heavy knocks which was pleasing. There was a point in the second half when, tired of feeling Bikey's studs, he turned Bikey inside out twice in a matter of seconds. He was also angrily confronted by Liam Rosenior in the second half and walked away. van Persie appears tohave mastered his temper and is letting his feet do the talking. van Persie picked up the ball with his back to goal half way inside Reading's half, turned and spun a beautiful ball to Toure on the right, Toure cut the ball back and Cesc Fabregas just couldn't make the connection. But sixty seconds later, Arsenal did have their killer goal. Fabregas teed up Gilberto who unleashed a shot which flew in via the head off Andre Bikey. How we are fortune's fool, to have received that kind of luck in recent weeks. The delight of his teammates suggested that that could be his final goal for the club. A flowing move saw van Persie play in Adebayor, he cut back to van Persie who did not get a true enough connection to steer his shot past Hahnemann.
The second half was played much like an attack v defence training session. Fabregas began to take hold of the match, he played a probing ball to Walcott on the right, Fabregas then headed Theo's teasing cross just over. Walcott has matured impressively, he plays with his head up now and varies his positioning. He wants the ball and is prepared to drift infield and cause team's problems. Physically he looks more confident and is beginning to look every inch an Arsenal player. The boy is subjected to far too much pressure, but I really think we'll see a big season from him next year. van Persie was continuing to fine tune his aim, a crashing free kick thudded bar and post before coming out. Fortune appeared to have remembered itself. A telling incident thereafter when Bendtner did not clear a corner and Fabregas and Lehmann furiously remonstrated with the Dane. I rate the boy but he appears to be tremendouly unpopular as a personality with the players. The Gunners pressed for a third as Fabregas again dribbled through a bewildered Reading defence and played in Walcott, coming in fromthe right touchline and he crashed a shot against the bar.
Reading mounted their first dangerous attack when Song was dispossessed next to the corner flag and Bobby Convey's shot was tipped over by Lehmann, who in all likelihood bade farewell to the the Arsenal fans yesterday. More ups than downs in the crazy German's tenure but I'll remember him fondly. The crazy bastard. (The fact that he didn't level Sonko after taking a knock from him in the first half was probably the most surprising incident of a colourful Arsenal career). There was one final flourish when Bendtner played in Fabregas, he composed hismelf and took aim only for Duberry to brilliantly clear off the line. It was a satisfying performance but there is a lingering sense of regret that we didn't absolutely thump Reading. In seasons past when we have been involved in dead rubber games, Arsenal have run up big scores. (The 7-0 versus Everton and the 6-1 versus Southampton come to mind). 2-0 suggests the game was a lot closer than it was, but there were pleasing signs of Ade, RVP and Walcott working in tandem. Disappointing that somany stayed awayand that Eboue appeared to be booed when he came onto the pitch. On the pitch it all came together, just when it didn't really matter.LD.
Date:Sunday April 20 2008
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