Reading 2- 5 Arsenal : Theo gets his wish, Cazorla and Podolski weave magic
Arsenal returned back to winning ways at the Madejski after suffering an embarrassing Cup exit to Bradford. Santi Cazorla’s first hatrick in England and excellent support by Podolski and Wilshere took Arsenal to a 5-2 victory over Reading. Though there was some 2nd half resurgence that reminded Arsenal fans of a certain 7-5 comeback, but a cool finish by Walcott for the fifth put Wenger’s nerves to rest.
The main team news for the Gunners was Walcott’s return and his selection as the main striker upfront. Gervinho was rightly benched after a series of wretched performances. The 4-2-3-1 had Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla in midfield with ‘the Ox’ and Podolski on the wings.
Reading suffered a blow with an injury to Jason Roberts, but Pogrebnyak was fit enough to start. Brian McDermott went for a 4-4-2 with Kebe and captain McAnuff on the wings. Hunt and ‘Pog’ played upfront with Tabb and Leigertwood in midfield.
Simple battle of 3 V 2 in midfield
The game started with Arsenal playing in a very high tempo and outrunning Reading in every department. The midfield domination was actually really simple as Arsenal’s 3 man midfield outplayed the Reading duo of Tabb and Leigertwood. In such cases the opposition striker, here Pogrebniak, is supposed to fall onto Mikel Arteta to close down the distribution. But here ‘the Pog’ rarely did his duties and did not press Arteta enough. The Spaniard thus had loads of space to play in Podolski and Cazorla.
The other 2 battles in midfield were Leigertwood on Cazorla and Tabb on Wilshere, and it was easy to see that Arteta’s freedom led to Arsenal winning both these duels. Leigertwood could rarely keep up with Cazorla’s trickery and the Spaniard easily operated between the lines.
Wilshere started in the proper No.10 position instead of his usual deep role, and this was mainly due to Walcott’s inclusion upfront. Infact Theo’s role as the striker influenced many aspects of Arsenal’s game.
The Theo effect
Firstly there was no physical presence upfront so the long balls from Szczesny and the defence were non-existent. The defence tried to the ball via Arteta and again Pogrebniak’s lack of marking made this easy for Arsenal.
Secondly Podolski and Wilshere came into the game much more. When Giroud plays upfront, the Frenchman tends to stay on the deepest midfielder and flicks on the ball for the wingers. But now Theo always occupied the space between the centre backs and fullback. This meant that the defense that to stay really deep to check Theo and also not to be caught out by Walcott’s pace in case of a high line.
So Walcott always stayed between Gorkss and Shorey, waiting for the balls to be played above the centre backs. Though the midfield rarely utilized Walcott’s service, he was a good dummy for Podolski to get into the game. The German also wanted to play centrally, and now he was able to run directly and Mariappa instead down the flanks. This also brought in the perfect opportunity for Gibbs to attack down the open wings.
A similar situation was arising on the other flank. Due to Shorey and Morkss’s positioning around Walcott, Chamberlain had plenty of freedom to play much narrower. The Ox was often found in central midfield with Bac Sagna attacking down the flanks. The right back flourished here and also reduced the threat of McAnuff on this flank.
Though Walcott’s runs off the ball are not as good as Giroud, the Englishman did a good job in pulling out Gorkss time and again. Wenger was often seen signaling to Theo to make a twisting run around the centre backs, and this is a area to improve for Theo in order to latch on to Cazorla’s long balls to him.
Though Reading were completely dominated in the first half, their left winger Kebe had a good game. Kebe was able to take advantage of Gibbs’s preference to attack and often found himself up against Vermaelen. The Arsenal captain has been criticized often this season, but tonight he put in quite a few valiant tackles. Again Pogrebniak and Hunt’s lack of coordination upfront affected Reading.
Substitutions and Banks of 4
No substitutions were made at half time but McDermott’s team came out much more spirited than the first. Jay Tabb particularly was told to play much ahead and was now pressing on Wilshere high up the pitch. The stocky midfielder provided some much needed pressing for Reading and this opened up space ahead.
McDermott replaced both his strikers and shifted to a 4-1-4-1 with Leigertwood the only one playing in front of the defence. Le Fondre came in for ‘Pog’ upfront, and Robson-Kanu took up the left flank with McAnuff moving to the centre.
Now Reading started pressing much better and with the second band of 4 were able to bring out mistakes from Wilshere and the defence. One such error by Gibbs led to the first goal and another misplaced pass by Wilshere led to the second. Reading were back in the game as Arsenal desperately needed a change in tactics; Wenger had to either bring on Giroud who would be a target for long balls, or else another midfielder to support Wilshere and Arteta.
Wenger brought on Ramsey for Chamberlain and the Welshman immediately affected the game. Ramsey made Arsenal’s midfield also a 4 man line and so the Gunner’s once again dominated the midfield.
The entire performance by Arsenal was reminiscent of the Arsenal of old. Swift movement in midfield and neat grounded passes converted into attack. Wenger might just have found out a Plan-B to replace his Giroud based attacks. Though Reading were not much of a threat, this match might prove as a stepping stone for Theo’s contract situation.
Top of the match: Santi Cazorla (though Podolski deserves a mention here)
Flop of the match: Pavel Pogrebnyak