Seeing as I’ve been away for a while – too busy acting, darling – I thought I would return with a headline in the style of Peter Hill-Wood’s unofficial mouthpiece, the Daily Star. It probably needs more sex before I’m quite there….
So. Last night’s game.
In case any of you don’t know what happened, or just fancy indulging again…
I nearly missed it, forgetting it had been moved to Tuesday for TV, and after 30 minutes I was almost wishing I had. I say almost, because as a break from the endless pressure of Champion’s League and Premier League fixtures, it’s quite nice watching Arsenal play without being too concerned about the outcome.
Certainly the away fans seemed to be enjoying themselves, even when the team were falling apart, especially the guy who took to twitter to prove that when sky gleefully pointed out him leaving, he was in fact getting a drink.
Apart from a short chorus of “We want our Arsenal back” when Reading’s fourth went in just in front of them, they were amazingly supportive and vocal throughout. If subsequent quotes are to be believed, it was the passion of the fans that inspired the players to bust a gut in the second half. Either way, the cold away-dayers were rewarded in the end.
On the pitch, the Arsenal multiple personality disorder was in full effect. After a few low scoring games, someone must have heard the guys on ‘The Tuesday Club’ podcast complaining about a lack of entertainment, because, as the manager said, we won by a tennis score.
Reading attacked from the off with pace, purpose and overloaded the wings, particularly targeting the out of position Miquel at left back. Djourou’s good run of form in 2010/11 that ended with his injury and our subsequent collapse in the four-all draw at Newcastle seems a distant memory, and Jason Roberts is exactly the kind of forward Koscielny struggles against. Physical, niggly, clever and good at bending the rules. The Frenchman endured a torrid half, complete with one of his trademark near post own-goals.
Behind them the highly rated Damien Martinez looked strong and athletic and terrified. Not entirely surprising given it was only his second first team appearance for any club and behind such a non-functioning defence, but even the erratic Don Vito would have saved Leigertwood’s speculative left footer for Reading’s third.
The midfield and attack was absent without leave in the first half. We couldn’t retain the ball or win it back. The only bright spots were a couple of promising runs from the 17 year old Gnabry and some energetic running from Arshavin. The key moment from an Arsenal perspective was a great through ball from the Russian, finished expertly by Walcott. It wasn’t exactly ‘game on’, but it halted Reading’s momentum and gave the team some hope at half-time.
Although the players started the second half with more purpose, Arsenal weren’t really looking like staging a comeback, despite the clear penalty for handball missed by the match officials. The turning point was the introductions of Giroud and Eisfeld for Gnabry and Frimpong. Giroud immediately provided a focal point for the Arsenal attack and within two minutes artfully guided a header past Federici from a whipped in Walcott corner. His physicality upset the hithertoo untested Reading defence, and seemed to breathe some life into Chamakh as well. In midfield, Eisfeld continued his pre-season form, showing good pace, crisp passing and a willingness to shoot and commit players.
At 4-2 Reading were suddenly on the back foot, playing with fear rather than freedom, and Arsenal’s superior quality was showing. It wasn’t quite one way traffic, but a combination of wanting to salvage pride and smelling blood led to wave after wave of Arsenal attack. Promising positions and half-chances came and went, but the men in red kept going and remarkably got their reward. An unmarked Koscielny redeemed himself with a well placed header from Walcott’s corner in the 89th minute, and in the 96th, a good Eisfeld ball into the box was nodded down by Giroud to Walcott. His shot was cleared from behind the line without any signal from the officials, but thankfully Jenkinson was on hand to smash in the rebound and let whose goal it was be sorted out later.
An extraordinary comeback was greeted by Giroud and Coquelin throwing their shirts into the crowd, before discovering there was extra-time, and having to ask for them back.
Once into extra time it seemed the momentum swing could only lead to one winner, especially when Chamakh scored for the first time in 13 months from outside the area following a good move he had started with skill on the wing. Extraordinarily, Reading equalised with a close range header from another deflected cross, and penalties seemed a logical conclusion to such a lottery of a game.
Ultimately, and seemingly defying logic even further, the front line who looked so anaemic in the first 40 minutes won the game for Arsenal. Underlying his return to fitness if not form, in the 120th minute Arshavin sprinted 40 yards to receive the ball on the left before cutting inside and drilling a low shot past the keeper, like a flashback from 2009. As with much in the last two years, somehow he was denied by a great block on the goal line. Fortunately, the man he should have passed to, Walcott, was on hand to smash home the rebound. Amazingly the man nearest Walcott was Koscielny, who had run almost 80 yards after his initial tackle, and after his torrid first half played like a man possessed once his nemesis Roberts departed.
There was even time for icing on the cake, when improbably Chamakh lobbed the keeper from 35 yards to make it 7-5 and give Walcott his third assist of the night following a desperate punt upfield.
The emotions of the game were very well summed up by the twittersphere – despite the input Piers Morgan.
Its hard to draw any real conclusions from a game of that nature, but there are a few obvious observations.
- Theo Walcott has looked dangerous all season, and whether it is a kick up the arse from being dropped, or the desire to earn a new contract here or at another club, he was excellent last night. You can’t argue with three goals and three assists, and he took responsibility to pull us back into it. I have always argued that his new contract should be a formality for the club, and have illustrated more of my thoughts on the subject for LadyArse here.
- Before last night’s game, Emmanuel Frimpong admitted that he was not fully back to his pre-injury levels, and needed another loan spell as he wasn’t ready to compete for a first team place. Last night proved that to be the case, as he lacked the mobility, bite and drive we have seen from him in previous performances, and the game passed him by badly. Apparently Wolves want to take him on loan again, which would be a good move for him, as he was settling in well there before his injury.
- Djourou once again showed he needs a run of games to perform. I can’t see him getting it.
- Laurent Koscielny is still woefully naive against experienced physical strikers, and I can think of refs who would have sent him off once he was booked.
- Ignasi Miquel is not now, and will never be a left back. He lacks the pace, ball close ball skills and fitness. He may yet make a good central defender.
- Despite being woefully out of touch, Arshavin’s effort levels have at least returned to the level we saw when he joined the club. He was constantly involved, and looking to make things happen, despite nothing coming off for him. Somehow he got two assists for Walcott, and literally kept running until the last minute. With Gervinho out, we need him to contribute.
- Chamakh’s goal seem to lift a massive weight from his shoulders. Almost as soon as he scored, the player we signed seem to return. Winning the ball in midfield, running into channels, throwing himself at crosses, and competing in a way we haven’t seen in a year. If he can take this into his performances going forward, we may yet have a decent attacking option again.
- Thomas Eisfeld showed he had a good touch and an instinct for goal in pre-season, and his introduction last night was pivotal. So often we lack pace in central midfield, and a quality he shares with Wilshere and Diaby is the ability to accelerate beyond the first man. His range of passing was impressive, and while still physically too lightweight for regular game time, he has shown enormous promise.
- Jenksinson and Coquelin are not the most gifted players in the squad, but I’ll be surprised if they are not the fittest.
- As I’ve said before Giroud is a proper centre forward, but now the team are working out how to use him. His physical presence, link play and hunger for goals, will be invaluable for us in the coming months, and happily he seems to be on the same wavelength as Walcott.
- Wenger wasn’t happy at the end because of our suicidal defending despite scoring 7. This is a good thing:
In other news, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United have all been knocked out tonight. After all the mocking tweets at 4-0 down, I imagine the Arsenal players must be feeling rather satisfied tonight.