Reading preview :: Thoughts on boardroom freshness

Morning all, welcome to a brand new week.

There’s football tonight, of course. We’ve had a whole weekend of unimportant football matters and now it’s time for Arsenal to try and put Bradford behind them and get on with the Premier League. We play four games in the next couple of weeks and they are four quite winnable games too. Which doesn’t mean much these days when it comes to this team, anything can happen, and often does, but we need to make sure that the things that do happen are positive for the club.

Ordinarily, playing the team who prop up the Premier League with just one win all season, might be seen as routine. As it is it has all the hallmarks of another banana skin. We know Reading are a decent enough side, both from our adventures in the Capital One Cup and they way they’ve played this season. They score a reasonable amount of goals, especially at home, and were involved in that remarkable game with Manchester United recently.

Perhaps it had something to do with United’s lack of defensive quality but at least they had the firepower to make up for it. The last time we scored more than once from open play in the league was a month ago, during the 5-2 spanking of Sp*rs. Which all makes it sound a bit negative but I’m afraid I can’t help be a bit apprehensive about this game.

I think we’ve got the quality and ability to win it but then that was also true of Bradford and Swansea, which makes you think it’s more about the application and attitude. As pointed out yesterday Jack Wilshere is calling for unity, for the players to stand up and take some of the heat off the manager, but it can’t just be Jack Wilshere doing his bit, everyone needs to be ‘on message’ tonight.

With regards the team there’s good news in that Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are reportedly back from injury and both will surely start. I’d suspect a starting XI of: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud

Gervinho’s recent calamities in front of goal preclude him from being anything more than an option from the bench this evening, and while I think Lukas Podolski will start I’d be surprise if the manager didn’t also consider using Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain there. The German has some goals and assists to his name but has yet to really impose himself on this team. The constant substitutions speak of fitness issues, or lack of trust from the manager, both of which are slightly worrying considering his age and experience.

There have been some signs that the Ox is beginning to find some kind of form after a pretty slow start to the season, and at least provides us with an option when Podolski runs out of gas around the 65′ mark. Beyond that there’s little chance of rotation, unless he brings in Rosicky and shifts Cazorla wide, but as I said these guys are good enough to win this game, if they perform.

Forget talk of doing it for the manager, they really should have some professional pride too, a determination to put right what went wrong at Valley Parade. If it’s embarrassing for fans, it should be doubly so for the players. When it’s suggested by their captain that Torquay United provided a tougher test it is a bit of media-led hyperbole, but it ought to sting a bit as well. They must know they haven’t performed in recent weeks, no player enjoys losing or playing badly, and once the whistle goes it’s down to them to do the business on the pitch. Fingers crossed they react, these are three points we badly need.

Elsewhere, the perfect example of why most punditry is hot-air comes from George Graham. Quoted on Friday as saying Arsenal will never win the league again, he then took part in an interesting BBC 5 Live debate and fully backed Arsene Wenger, saying:

There is a lot of hysterical criticism about Wenger now. If you want to stay in the top four, he is the man without question. I think Wenger will stay there. He is very powerful at the club and rightly so. He will make the decision if he leaves or not. I cannot see him leaving at all.

I know it’s a debate that rumbles on but surely if you think Arsenal will never win the league again then you also think it’s time for a new manager. Unless you think that even with a new manager we’ll still never win the league in which case there’s no point changing anything, ever. Which is a rather strange outlook on things.

There were also calls for the eminently sensible Bob Wilson to be appointed to the board after his views on the gobby Stewart Robson played out, and while Bob is certainly a legend and a great man, at 71 it would seem a bit unfair to inflict that kind of responsibility on him. And with all due respect, he isn’t much younger than the men he might replace.

It’s a question for another day, but I think most people accept that there is a dearth of footballing knowledge on the board and that is a situation which needs to be rectified. But who’s out there who knows the game, is intelligent enough and, most importantly, who knows Arsenal? I was thinking about this, going through ex-players and so on, and two names sprung to mind. Both of them Dutch, both of them at Ajax.

Dennis Bergkamp may prefer the hands-on coaching role he has at the Dutch giants right now, but wouldn’t he be the perfect fit for a Director of Football role? The combination of the Ajax upbringing and his time at Arsenal fits perfectly with the club’s footballing philosophy, and his issue with flying means he can never be a manager. The current DoF at Ajax is Marc Overmars, again he’s got knowledge and experience of the European game, and when we’re looking for candidates (hopefully sooner rather than later) these two are miles far ahead of anyone else I can think of.

Perhaps it’s something of a pipe dream, and no doubt Kroenke will hand-pick Tomas Danilevicius to give us that edge in the crucial Lithuanian market, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Don’t forget, we’ll have full live blog coverage of tonight’s game (a problem shared, and all that!). Check back later for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog pageand updates will begin automatically.

We’ll also be sending important updates, goals, red cards, half-time etc, directly to Twitter from inside the live blog.

And remember, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Finally for today, if you fancy a copy of So Paddy Got Up for Christmas, there are still just a few of the hardbacks left and I’d say today is the final day on which pre-holiday post might arrive in time (certainly in Europe anyway). Details here.

Right then, up and at them, back later with football and hopefully three points. Come on Arsenal.


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