Reading 2 Arsenal 5
The Madejski Stadium isn`t a ground I will particularly miss if Reading are to be relegated. It might be local enough to mean that, even on a weeknight, the flexi sheet doesn`t take much of a hit in travelling to the stadium. But due to its location right out on the motorway and in the middle of nowhere, it`s one of the least accessible grounds in the country. Which just adds to its lack of character. I would hate for it to be my own team`s homeground. Accessing your ground, not via the pub or via a street, but via a traffic heavy junction on the motorway just ain`t cricket.
In any case, after a couple of pints at Paddington, we braved the 5 o` clock commuter rush for the short journey west. Another pair of pre match sharpeners in the Three Guineas had us in fine fettle before we took the decision not to brave the horrendously long queues for the bus from Reading station to the ground, a full six miles away. Instead we took a taxi through the impossibly heavy motorway traffic and to the Madejski car park-a-like stadium. Arsene sprung something of a surprise by electing to start Theo Walcott upfront, with Chamberlain and Podolski flanking him. It worked reasonably well, I think Theo did show an ability to hold the ball up I doubted he had. He often made unselfish runs to create space for teammates. But I`m not certain I`d trust it against stiffer opposition than Reading.
Arsenal looked on their game from the first minute, when Chamberlain collected the ball from Cazorla and forced Federici into a fine low save. Alas, Podolski was flagged offside for the rebound. The Gunners took the lead after 15 minutes. Signs that the nascent signs of a promising partnership between Podolski and Gibbs that flourished earlier in the season have reignited. Gibbs played a left wing cross to the front post which Podolski killed with his right foot, before lashing into the far corner with his left. A ruthless, clinical goal. The Royals were giving Arsenal the red carpet treatment and Cazorla`s slide rule pass had Walcott through on goal, but Federici stood up to his low slotted effort.
Wilshere had a bouncing volley batted away by the increasingly busy Federici after Gibbs` low cross ricocheted towards him. But the Gunners got a deserved second soon enough. Again, the move came down Arsenal`s left, this time Podolski was the provider, with a low clipped cross which Reading`s achingly poor defence allowed Cazorla to stoop and head home from close range. It was Walcott from the right that left Nicky Shorey in tatters in the League Cup encounter in October, but this time Arsenal`s left was slicing Reading to pieces. Gibbs` headed cross from the left found Cazorla in the area. The diminutive Spaniard was allowed time and space to control and turn, with a bobbled left footed effort bouncing into the net for 3-0.
Even a side as fond of capitulation as Arsenal were never going to let this one slip. At half time, I stumbled across the thinning pate of Charlie George in the away end, chatting affably with fans. It was almost too easy for Arsenal. Cazorla`s angled pass played Walcott in on the left hand side of the area. He turned the ball back across goal, but Mariappa hooked it off the line and into the grateful arms of Federici. Walcott then spun and shot narrowly wide from 20 yards. The visitors looked good for another goal and they got one when Wilshere`s pass found Podolski roaring into the area. He might have shot, but had the presence of mind to square the ball for Santi Cazorla to stroke home his hat trick. Cazorla is effectively right footed and managed a hat trick without once using his stronger foot.
It`s a salutary lesson for incompetently one footed players. Neither of Cazorla`s left footed efforts were terribly difficult, it`s true. But both were probably more difficult than the chance Wilshere passed up against Bradford because he wouldn`t shoot from five yards on his right. Competence on your weaker foot instantaneously makes you a more dangerous player. Cazorla would probably have lost both of his left footed goals had he wasted time fannying about trying to get the ball on his right foot. It`s so ridiculously easy to work yourself to a level of competence on two feet and I remain utterly astounded that so many professionals don`t do it.
The game, if anything, became too easy for Arsenal. There was a point in the second half where Mertesacker shanked a pass straight at the Reading back four and they conspired to simply hoof it straight back to him in the centre circle, with the added bonus of no midfield pressure as he looked to control the ball. However, as they are wont to do, Arsenal fell asleep and made the exceptionally simple a tad more complicated. Gibbs` sloppy pass failed to find Wilshere inside Arsenal`s half and Jay Tabb nicked in and played the ball to Adam Le Fondre. He rounded Szczesny to score. Minutes later, the quick feet of Robson Kanu found Jimmy Kebe, played onside by a snoozing Podolski, and he snaked his way through to slot the ball into the bottom corner. Nervous tension began to permeate the away end.
The locals didn`t seem entirely convinced of a comeback and took it all with good humour, "How sh*t must you be, we`re scoring at home!" they chanted. The reply, "How sh*t must you be, Chamakh scored two" was the caustic reply. The Reading fans responded with a chant of "Brian, sign him up" which the away support joined in with in concert. It was nice to hear some humour at an away match again after several weeks of terribly, terribly serious, humourless tantrums. Arsenal did the right thing to stem the tide and just kept the ball for a short period of time, draining the life from Reading legs.
You got the feeling Arsenal could score again with the flick of a switch and they did so. Cazorla again sent Walcott clear and he finished neatly with his left foot (note, he didn`t lose the chance by fart arsing about trying to get the ball back onto his right). Three times Arsenal have won 5-2 in 2012, Walcott has applied the finishing touch each time. Reading were poor opponents, it`s true. But they gave Manchester United a convincing scare at the Madejski recently and Arsenal seemed to have the simplicity of their game back. Reading gave them the time and the space, but the Gunners appeared to reconnect with their values again, which can hopefully build the confidence to produce more of the same in coming matches. LD.
READING: 1.FEDERICI, 24.CUMMINGS, 17.GORKKS, 6.MARIAPPA, 3.SHOREY, 16.TABB, 8.LEIGERTWOOD, 11.MacANUFF (c), 14.KEBE (12.McLeary `72), 10.HUNT (9.Le Fondre `61), 7.POGREBNYAK (17.Robson-Kanu `61). Unused: 2.Gunter, 5.Pearce, 24.Harte, 41.Taylor.
ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 4.MERTESACKER, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE, 19.S.CAZROLA (22.Coquelin `82), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (16.Ramsey `74), 9.PODOLSKI, 14.WALCOTT (12.Giroud `85). Unused: 6.Koscielny, 7.Rosicky, 24.Mannone, 27.Gervinho.