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Arsenal: Thoughts on tactics and starting eleven against Reading

The international break didn?t come at a good time for the Gunners as they were just building some momentum with a couple of impressive wins. On the other hand, for Reading it was a blessing as they searched for a new man to take charge. That can?t be changed and, at least theoretically, it shouldn?t [...]

READING, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 17: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal is closed down by Jobi McAnuff of Reading during the Barclays Premier League match between Reading and Arsenal at Madejski Stadium

READING, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 17: Santi Cazorla of Arsenal is closed down by Jobi McAnuff of Reading during the Barclays Premier League match between Reading and Arsenal at Madejski Stadium

The international break didn’t come at a good time for the Gunners as they were just building some momentum with a couple of impressive wins. On the other hand, it was a blessing for Reading as they searched for a new man – Nigel Adkins – to take charge.

That can’t be changed and, at least theoretically, it shouldn’t be too big a factor if Arsenal want to put up a serious fight for the Champions League spots. However, I have a feeling it will be a factor and this will be a closely contested game.

It’s difficult to predict how Reading will play in this game. Nigel Adkins’ Southampton side wasn’t the best passing unit in the League but they did try to build attacks from the back and usually had respectable possession figures. McDermott’s Reading was a more vertical team that defended deep and then relied on longer balls to move forward. Will Adkins stick to the style the players are used to or will he succeed in changing their approach soon after taking over? Only time will tell.

Crossing and wing play formed a big part of Reading’s attacking repertoire and those skills could be used by Adkins whose sides utilized back post crosses to great effect. We might see Pogrebnyak pulling away to the back post and dropping into space between the central defenders and full-backs. From there, he could either get some shots on target or provide lay-offs for supporting attackers.

Set pieces will obviously be one of the visitors’ main hopes of scoring a goal.

For a team fighting relegation and with a new manager in charge, it wouldn’t be surprising if the focus is on keeping things tight at the back. Packing the centre of the pitch and forcing the Gunners wide is a tactic that has worked for many teams. Whether Reading can pull it off for the whole of 90 minutes remains to be seen. Their defensive record and the previous two defeats to Arsenal this season suggest the Royals will struggle; but at this stage of the season, you never know what an extra ounce of motivation can produce.

Needless to say, this is a must-win fixture for the Gunners. On paper it’s an easy game. Reading have 5 points from 15 away games with just 1 win and 2 draws. But I have a feeling the hosts will feel some pressure and that could bring the dreaded handbrake into play. Reading could grow in confidence and the home crowd might become restless if the players lack a bit of confidence or we see the effects of internationals (which is not a completely convincing excuse) and they just can’t find the right tempo.

That said, Arsenal will have a good chance of getting all three points if they don’t gift a goal or two to the opponents. Cohesive defensive work seen in the previous games has to continue but at the same time the players will have to find a way to take more risks against a team that is likely to prioritize defending. Throughout the season, there has been a struggle to find the right balance between attack and defence. In the previous two wins, it was more about keeping things tight at the back and taking the chances when they came. This time around, Arsenal will have to take more initiative and force the play.

The news of Diaby’s long-term injury was disheartening, and Wenger will be without some other regulars like Wilshere and Walcott while Gibbs’ availability is doubtful, but the Frenchman has enough players available to put out a very strong team while retaining a couple of offensive options on the bench.

Abou Diaby will be sorely missed by the Gunners

Abou Diaby will be sorely missed by the Gunners

I have a feeling Fabianksi will retain his place as will Koscielny (unless he’s picked up some niggle with the national team). Jenkinson could make way for Sagna.

Will Cazorla play centrally or will Arsene bring Rosicky back into the starting eleven and move the Spaniard wide? I’d prefer the latter option.

Walcott’s absence also brings another decision into the picture. One of Podolski, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain might start if Rosicky plays. Two of them might get a chance if Cazorla is the attacking midfielder.

Here’s the squad I think would work wonders for Arsenal:

Fabianksi – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey – Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski.

This team might be a tad short on pace but it has more players who can combine in tight spaces. Against an opponent that is likely to focus on defending, this ability can be crucial. Intelligence and understanding might be better attributes than speed in such a game.

It would be foolish to make any predictions given the topsy-turvy nature of the season thus far; but with Spurs visiting Swansea and Chelsea playing away to Southampton, Arsenal really can give themselves a chance to make up some lost ground with a home win.

P.S. – Those with an interest in numbers might find this analysis of home and away form of Premier League teams over the last five seasons quite enjoyable.

Published with permission from Desi Gunner.

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