Reading 5-7 Arsenal: Schizophrenic Arsenal get battered and still hand out a thrashing

Reading 5-7 Arsenal: Schizophrenic Arsenal get battered and still hand out a thrashing

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So, last night I played football, a game which kicked off at 9.15pm (routine 2-0 win, in case you’re interested). That meant I could only watch the first half. And when I left the house at half-time, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at what I’d just seen.

A late Theo Walcott goal gave us some faint hope, but as I left I sent a text to a friend at the match, which read like this:

As we were warming up one of the lads on the team (an Arsenal fan), says “It’s 4-2!”. Not a surprise we’d gotten another goal but surely the gap was too much – not to mention the way we were defending … surely we’d concede as we pushed on. At half-time in our game he checked his phone. “4-4!”. Holy shit. We played the second half, shook hands with the opposition, he checked again. It took a while. “5-5, and we were 5-4 up!”.

Must be going to penalties, I thought. As we’re walking off the pitch towards the car park, someone says “6-5 Arsenal!”, and by the time I’d gotten to my car and checked my phone it was 7-5. And as the friend I sent the text to laughed at me afterwards, he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in my life.”

Tom was on liveblog duty last night, so I’ll hand over to him to talk about what happened, interspersed with some of the liveblog updates.

TOM

If you ever wanted to describe this Arsenal team to anyone, you’d not bother, and just get them to watch last night’s game from beginning to topsy-turvy end. It was the ultimate game of two halves, with Reading completely battering us in the first period, and then us completing a turnaround in deep in stoppage time, before taking it in extra time. I’ve slept on it, dreamed about it (seriously), and I can’t make any kind of sense of it.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the first half was the worst I can remember seeing Arsenal play. Fears that we might lose by a worse scoreline than we did in last season’s fixture at Old Trafford were quite reasonable, with Reading going 4-0 up in the first 37 minutes.

They started the game as brightly as we didn’t. Despite making 11 changes to the side that beat QPR, we had plenty of quality in the side, with Walcott, Koscielny, Arshavin, Djourou, and Jenkinson all starting. As I said on liveblog though, they looked like they’d never met, and Reading tore us apart again and again.

The first came in the 12th minute, after a fairly simple move saw a low cross swept in by Roberts at the far post after Koscielny lost his man, leaving Martinez with no chance. Six minutes later, a low Reading cross from the right hand side was powered in, Koscielny stuck out a leg to block it, but only succeeded in putting it in at the near post. If a striker had done that, it’d have looked a really sharp finish – if they’d done it at the right end, of course.

Then Martinez decided that anything the defenders in front of him could do badly, he’d at least try and match, trying a spectacular flying save from a shot from the edge of the box, but only managing to palm it into his own net. At least he had the excuse of being a young man, and young goalkeepers will have moments like that – even if it does feel like young goalkeepers at Arsenal are more likely to do it more often than others. International defenders like Koscielny had no such excuse.

23 – Fucking hell, we’re really playing like a side that was out on the lash until 5am and doesn’t remember any of the people we were boozing with. Awful

A simple move, cross from the right, and header by Noel Hunt made it 4-0, and Arsenal were the ones looking like a team comprised of Hunts. It was really, really bad, and Sky were cutting to footage of Tony Adams in the crowd, looking glum, and then to Steve Bould, sitting on the bench looking like he couldn’t believe it. Unsprisingly, Arsene looked like thunder, but the question wasn’t so much what he’d do to change it, but how many Reading would score.

42 - SHOT ON TARGET FROM CHAMAKH ALERT!

Saved though, obviously.

Then, in one of the most significant moments of the entire fixture, Theo Walcott raced onto a through ball and lifted the ball over the keeper for a great finish to make it 4-1. Like many others, I joked on liveblog that the comeback was on. It really was a joke – I had no sense we could remotely get back into the game.

With no changes at half time (I mean, why would you, right?), the second half started exactly like the first, with Reading continuing to batter us and having several chances to get their fifth. While you already thought it was over, had they taken even one of those chances it would’ve been even harder to believe what followed. Yet they didn’t, and after they missed a relatively easy header, we started to get a foothold in the game. While still not looking dangerous, passes started making their mark, and we had much, much more of the ball, and finally started making chances.

57 – Um. If we’d taken our chances this half, we’d be level.

Of course, had Reading taken theirs, we’d be dead and buried.

On the hour mark, the manager replaced Frimpong and Gnabry with Eisfeld and Giroud. It was something of an inspired move, and with Walcott looking ever more lively, we started looking genuinely dangerous, before a Walcott corner was expertly put away by the France international. Suddenly it was 4-2, we were looking dangerous, and you really did feel there was a possibility we might be able to do something.

69 – I’ve turned the TV volume down, but I’m hearing from Twitter that the noise from the Arsenal fans is immense. If anyone’s going to win it for us…

Although we still looked like our League Cup side generally does – youthful and not as fluent as the senior side (or at least not as fluent as we’d like the senior side to be!) – Reading looked tired, and increasingly like they were trying to sit on their lead, a dangerous proposition for a Reading side against any Arsenal team, you have to say.

It got to 80 minutes, and you started to feel the sinking feeling of being on the wrong side of the rollercoaster again. Time was running out, Reading seemed to be coping okay, and the chances we’d missed earlier in the half – plus the whole debacle that was our defending in the first period – felt like they were going to be costly. The clock was ticking, but in the very last minute of normal time, Koscielny made it 4-3.

90+0 – AAARRRRRHGHHGHHH. KOSCIELNY

They couldn’t, could they? Yes, yes they could. In the 95th minute, Walcott’s shot just about made it over the line, before Jenkinson slammed it home to make sure. 4-4 and the scarcely believable comeback was complete.

90+7 – Christ, is this what it felt to be Newcastle?

Hilariously, Giroud, and Coq (reasonably solid throughout), threw their shirts into the crowd at the end, presumably thinking there’d be a replay – or maybe they’d just lost count of the goals and thought we’d won.

Coming so late in stoppage time, the equaliser deflated Reading to the point you felt it was going to be impossible for them, and sure enough they didn’t really recover. First, Marouane Chamakh finally got the memo reminding him this was one of his chances to secure a move away from the club, and after a lovely move he slammed it home from 20-odd yards. Yes, that’s right, Chamakh – the same Chamakh that hadn’t scored since the dawn of time. It was a great finish too, and belied how little he’s played over the past 18 months.

103 – ARRRHHGHHGHGHGG – IT’S ONLY FUCKING CHAMAKH

Inevitably Reading got another to level the scores at 5-5, and briefly threatened to get back into it, but the momentum was all with Arsenal, and we went up the other end and scored two more, Walcott slammed home his third to make it 5-6 and then Chamakh – overflowing with confidence – chipping the goalie from 30 yards, to bring utter delirium to the magnificent away support.

120+3 – AARRRRRRGHGHGHGHGH

This time they really could throw their shirts into the crowd – it’s a shame there wasn’t one for every single Arsenal fan there. They all deserved one.

I don’t really have much to add, except to say that I genuinely felt bad for Reading and their manager, Brian McDermott. They were collateral damage of this crazy Arsenal side, yet took their defeat with dignity, and none of the stadium smashing and steward injuring that accompanies defeats of other teams that play in blue and white. Arsene Wenger looked drawn and exhausted at the end, seemingly as unable to believe what he’d seen as the rest of us, and while Jose Mourinho might’ve described our similarly topsy turvy 5-4 against Spurs as a hockey score a few years ago, Arsene went one better and admitted the score looked like we’d taken the first set in a tennis match.

So, we go into the quarter finals of a competition the media accuse us of not taking seriously for the tenth year running (stat goes to @optajoe), and while it’s clearly the lowest of our priorities, I’m glad we’re still in it. And while last night’s first half was deeply troubling, as unpleasant as the experience was and shouldn’t be forgotten in the elation of the win – the second half is why we all love this game. Utterly unbelievable.

Next stop Old Trafford.

*gulp*

What more can I add to that? A quite remarkable night of football and a game that even on delayed viewing this morning made back of neck hairs stick up.

We don’t half do things the hard way but that’s the Arsenal for you. Till tomorrow.

Reading v Arsenal – live blog

Reading v Arsenal – live blog

Join us today for live blogging of Reading v Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, kick off 7.45pm.

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Reading preview: something to prove in different ways

Reading preview: something to prove in different ways

I admit that I like the Rumbelows Milk Littlewoods Coca-Cola Carling Capital One Cup. Not because it’s the most prestigious tournament, not because it’s got the best players, but because it provides football we can watch without the stomach-churning pressure of every other game we play these days.

No doubt if we don’t get a result tonight it’ll be stockpiled, melted down and turned into some kind of bat with which to bash everything about everything, but given the team is likely to be a mix of experience (fringe in some cases) and raw talent it’s not a game that’s truly representative of our overall ability. That said, it’s a game in which you want to see players show their ability.

Those first teamers who haven’t played much this season, like Djourou, Arshavin, Koscielny and Chamakh (*cough*) get a chance to remind the manager of their quality, while it’s further playing time for the likes of Jenkinson, Miquel and others who aren’t exactly untried youth. But it’s the last group that make the Rumbelows Milk Littlewoods Coca-Cola Carling Capital One Cup exciting, for the most part. Seeing the potential stars of the future is simply fun, it’s kind of pure and just not laden down with the tons of bollocks that goes with everything else these days.

Although they might feel it, there’s no real pressure on these guys. Sure, they want to go out and prove to Arsene Wenger that they’re capable of playing for the Arsenal first team, that they’re ready to make their mark, but in terms of the result – even if we’re not playing one of the Premier League’s real big boys – they can’t really be held responsible for it.

As we’ve seen, shining in this competition is no guarantee of success. You think of someone like Carlos Vela, who scored hat-tricks, cheeky chips and caught the eye in a big way, but was unable to reproduce that when the games really counted. There have been others who have had the Quincy Factor down the years too, but there’s no doubt it’s a chance to experience first team football and catch the eye of a manager who is not afraid to give youth a chance when he feels it’s good enough.

Speaking of which, he’s been talking about young German, Serge Gnabry, who has been fast-tracked a bit this season and whose versatility could be a key factor in how often he’s used. He said:

He is a guy who can play in all the offensive positions. I think he could even play centre forward. He has a kind of efficiency in his game, and can get on the end of things.

He has big potential, creative potential, finishing potential. Serge is 17 years old and strong for a boy of that age.

Some will say it’s paucity of options that saw him chucked on against Norwich and Schalke, and to an extent that’s a fair point. I know every experience is a learning experience for a young player but expecting a kid of just 17 to come on and turn around two abysmal performances was rather too much to ask. All the same, he’s hardly going to be traumatised by it and it’s part and parcel of his development. I’m interested to see more of him, I have to say.

And while there are others bubbling under, I’m most looking forward to seeing the other German, Thomas Eisfeld. He signed from Borussia Dortmund last January and is now at an age (19) where he’s got to start playing more regularly for his development to continue. He looks to me, from the brief appearances we’ve seen, a mix between Arteta and Ljungberg. A tidy, technical attacking midfielder but he also seems to have the knack of good timing, of knowing when to arrive in the box, and that his name appears quite often on the scoresheet is evidence of that.

With the Arsenal midfield the way it is at the moment, you suspect a loan spell will be on the cards at some point this season – but how he performs in the Rumbelows Milk Littlewoods Coca-Cola Carling Capital One Cup might decide the level of the club he goes to. So, the combination of experience and youth, all of them with something to prove in one way or another, should hopefully bring about a decent performance tonight.

I can’t pretend to know too much about Reading or how they’re going to approach this, but I suspect they won’t be playing as many kids/reserves as us. A win over Arsenal, regardless of which flavour Arsenal it is, would provide them with the kind of confidence boost they could really use, so I think it’s going to be a stiff enough test this evening. Fingers crossed we come through it.

Elsewhere some other bits and pieces: the boss hails Andrei Arshavin’s professionalism. The Russian provided the cross which led to the chance which brought about the rebound which was stabbed home by Arteta from an offside position (hahaha, Hughes) against QPR, and with Gervinho out for a bit we see more of him than we would have. I don’t think it’s the beginning of a famous redemption, however, it strikes me the manager’s mind is pretty made up about him, but it’s a long season and needs must.

In this week’s Tactics Column, Anam looks at Aaron Ramsey and feels he should get a bit more credit for his displays this season. He’s a player who divides opinion, no question, but it’s worth reading whichever side of that particular fence you’re on.

And there’s good news ahead of Saturday’s game against United with Wojciech Szczesny returning to full training and in contention for a first team return. Amusingly, we ran this story on Arseblog News, only for it to turn up on goal.com a good 90 minutes later, almost word for word in some places, and labelled as an EXCLUSIVE. Wayneker.

Finally, remember we’ll have full live blog coverage of tonight’s game. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 7pm for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

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And that’s just about that. Here’s to a good game later on, more here tomorrow.

Tactics column: Why Aaron Ramsey deserves more credit

Tactics column: Why Aaron Ramsey deserves more credit

It’s possible to look at Arsenal’s team sheet as essentially a list of heroes and villains in the play that’s about to unfold. There’s Jack Wilshere, returning to the fold after a long absence like a war hero; Bacary Sagna, Arsenal’s Mr. Dependable and Mikel Arteta, the man who everyone feels should be leader. On the other end, however, you have the bumbling jester in goal, Vito Manonne; the equally calamitous Andre Santos and the infuriatingly talented, Aaron Ramsey.

Against QPR on Saturday, the main narrative was always going to centre on Wilshere. It’s understandable; he’s the first of a talented group of homegrown players to come out of the academy and was making his long awaited comeback from injury. Wilshere’s first touch was greeted with loud cheers by everyone at the ground and there was a buzz of anticipation every time he got the ball. It was a different story, however, for Aaron Ramsey.

The Welsh midfielder has recovered from a serious injury of his own and while he received plenty of support early on, that has quickly dissi pated. On Saturday, the crowd gradually grew restless of his tendency to procrastinate on the ball and what followed was the now customary smattering of groans around the Emirates.

Aaron Ramsey played on the right of a front three for Arsenal, the common Arsene Wenger answer for this is that it gives the team technical balance (and that also, Arsenal, lacking in confidence after two defeats in a row, would prefer to keep the ball as often as possible. Although judging by the impact made by the wide men in the second-half, there may be an argument to say Arsenal should have just winged it). But perhaps there lies more to the reason why Wenger has persisted with Ramsey on the right (in 6 starts, he has played four of them out wide).

It’s because this season, Arsenal have lacked balance. Not in normal terms as in attack and defence but in terms of left and right. The subtle differences in the way Arsenal attack from either sides mean there’s not complete harmony in their forward play.  That can be displayed by the Player Influence chart below: Sagna and Ramsey have complete freedom of the right hand-side. Which implies they should do more (and to be fair to Sagna, he showed with his bursts forward, what Arsenal have lacked from right-back). But with more ground to cover that meant actually, there was very little on. In particular, when it fell to Ramsey, he had nothing in front of him and usually relied on Sagna to try and catch up on the overlap.

That’s why Ramsey deserves more credit; his ball retention was superb, shielding the ball well and worked so hard just to cover Arsenal’s deficiencies. That can be backed up his stats: Ramsey had an 87% pass accuracy, attempted the most dribbles (at 4/8 successful) and also hit bar (that last one doesn’t actually constitute a stat but it does highlight one of his best attributes – his runs into the box).

Aaron Ramsey tactics

Last season, Arsenal favoured the right side more, attacking 37% from that side as opposed to 31% from the right. But that asymmetry was not a problem. It meant balance in the sense that the differences in the way Arsenal attack from the different sides complimented each other. They had a good understanding between Sagna and Theo Walcott while the double pivot of Alex Song and Mikel Arteta gave right and left balance respectively. Conversely though, the imbalance was in attack and defence where the double pivot failed to be the disciplined base it is this season.

What’s been the problem this is that Arsenal have failed to get the different components to work as a whole. The Podolski-Cazorla-Gibbs partnership has worked in the main, as has the Arteta-Cazorla combo while Giroud has showed good movement as a decoy. Yet, even then, he hasn’t quite got his team-mates to take advantage of his runs in a discernible way. But Wenger has even admitted that he hasn’t quite got the offensive balance correct, that it’s the hardest thing to get right.

One of the problem positions has been the midfielder who plays with Mikel Arteta. The obvious candidate would have been Aaron Ramsey after Abou Diaby’s injury. But out of the fire appears what seems the perfect candidate: Jack Wilshere. Left-footed, blessed with the dribbling ability to seamlessly switch defence to attack and of course, his stellar first season in that role anyway. That would mean Arteta on the right and Wilshere on the left, right? Wrong. Because for the most part against QPR, Arteta preferred to play towards the left, especially when defending. As he likes to receive the ball from the back too, he tends to start from the left so that his body is open to play. That forced Wilshere more to the right.

Nevertheless, Arsenal prefer to play with a staggered midfield two – with one slightly ahead of the other – anyway and only in the defensive phase is it really relevant who is on which side.

It’s rather fitting then, that Mikel Arteta would deliver the winning goal: Arsenal’s most fluid player in both attack and defence.

AW urges caution over Jack, thoughts on his return

AW urges caution over Jack, thoughts on his return

Morning all,

it’s a bank holiday here so really I should be in bed having a lie-in but such is the dedication to the cause – added to the fact I forgot to turn off my alarm – I’m up and about as if it were some kind of normal day.

I do like this time of year, the games are plentiful and obviously our participation in the Capital One Cup this week will add to that schedule. We’ll look ahead to it properly tomorrow but with injuries and so forth the manager may well have to go further down the list of youngsters than he might like.

While I’d expect some senior players to be involved – like Jenkinson, Walcott, Coquelin, Djourou, Koscielny, Arshavin, Frimpong and, possibly even Chamakh, there’s got to be room for the next generation. That’s what this tournament has been about, blooding new players, and we could see Eisfeld, Gnabry, Angha, Yennaris and others in the squad. As I said, we’ll have a proper look at it tomorrow when we’re likely to know a bit more about the players who will go to Reading.

In the meantime, as the euphoria dies down after that epic, scintillating victory over QPR, some of the focus returns to Jack Wilshere who made his long-awaited comeback in that game. As you’d imagine, Jack himself was thrilled to be back and highlighted the length of his absence by talking about who he was playing with now:

“Last time I played it was with Fabregas and Nasri – now it’s with Arteta and Cazorla. It’s like a new team and it’s a new me.

“Words cannot describe it. I was just running around smiling. I have to thank all the medical staff, Declan and Colin Lewin. When you go to the training ground day after day there are times when you don’t want to do it, especially when you see all the boys go out to training. But it’s great now to be back and hopefully I can push on from here.”

If you saw his post-match interview on Match of the Day (which you can see the video page) you might have noticed a more mature Jack Wilshere than previously. Of course that has to do with the passage of time and the fact he’s still a young man, but I suspect this injury and how long he’s spent out of the game has been a sobering experience. To be denied the chance to do what you love doing, and to go through some periods when you think it might never end, must be extremely difficult and thus alter your outlook.

The manager was going to play him in tomorrow night’s game but has since said that’s out of the question, and understandably so. He gives our midfield something extra, something we might well need going into next weekend’s game against Man Utd, and as much as we’d like him to get match fit as quickly as possible we’re going to have take it relatively easy with him.

Jack himself said he was cramping up after an hour or so, it doesn’t take much for cramp to become a muscle strain or tear and that’s the reality we face. He won’t get properly fit without playing games but he simply can’t be chucked back into a three game a week schedule at this point. Which is probably why AW is urging Roy Hodgson not to pick him for England’s upcoming friendly next month. He says:

“Jack should skip that. What is important now is that he gets back to full fitness for this team. Once he is back he will play for England again.

“I will speak about it with Roy, but what is important now is that he gets back to his level.”

You would hope that common sense would apply – a friendly against Sweden will tell Hodgson nothing he doesn’t already know about Jack Wilshere. The bottom line is that if he’s over-worked too early it could backfire and while Hodgson can go off and not worry about anything, as England don’t play again until next year, the real losers will be Arsenal but more importantly Wilshere who will face the frustration of an absence he didn’t have to suffer.

Still, that’s us being scared of being without him as much as anything else, because what was obvious on Saturday was his quality. Despite the lack of real fitness, despite the fact he hasn’t really kicked a ball in anger for over a year, he didn’t look out of place at all. He kept it simple, there were encouraging signs when you consider how well he dovetailed with players he hasn’t played with before. He combined with Arteta and Cazorla a total of 28 times during the game, and the fact that 18 of his 44 passes went to the full backs shows his ability to move the play, rather than get bogged down in the middle as we tend to do at times, will become increasingly important.

The game against United on Saturday is going to be one of huge intensity – even if we ignore the sideshow that is van Quisling – and one in which we’ll need our best players. Even at 85-90% Wilshere stands out in the Arsenal midfield, he’s got to play. It’ll be a huge test for him but like withstanding some of the heavy challenges inflicted by QPR it’s part and parcel of the game and he’s got to go through matches like this to get to 100%.

No doubt this is something that’ll crop up again as the week goes on, for now though, I bid you a bank holiday ‘good day’, back with a preview of the Reading game tomorrow.