Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Arsenal 2-0 Reading: Oxlade-Chamberlain’s double-barrel shoots down Royals

Match reportPlayer ratingsHighlights

As expected Arsene Wenger rang the changes for last night’s game against Reading, with some ‘fringe’ players and a smattering of young talent. Two goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were enough to see us through, but we might have scored more with a little extra composure and some better decision making.

There weren’t really any surprises in the team selection, although Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the centre of midfield alongside Mohamed Elneny was a little left field. The manager had talked up his talent pre-game so to play him there was a show of faith in that. He did pretty well overall, much like The Jeff playing further forward, they showed flashes of real promise. The desire of young players to impress when given a chance can see them eschew the simple option a bit too often, but that’s understandable.

We looked quite dangerous at times, the rawness of the youth was nicely offset by the experience of Lucas Perez up front whose movement was really clever. His passing cost him a couple of assists, but overall I thought he was good. He had to come off in the second period after some lummox stamped on the back of his foot, hopefully it’s nothing too serious.

There were chances to score before Oxlade-Chamberlain got his first in the 33rd minute. Reading gave the ball away, he took it into the box, wiggled a bit, then fizzed a cracking shot into the far bottom corner of the net. There have been green shoots to his season, not everything is perfect and you can still see how there’s some room for improvement, but he’s added some end product which is obviously a good thing.

At the other end a shot deflected off Gabriel and went just over. The second half was a bit flat overall. Olivier Giroud came on and saw Al-Habsi make a brilliant save to deny him a goal on his comeback, while Emi Martinez had to be alert to prevent an equaliser, plucking the ball out of the air to stop a goal-bound header.

We never looked in too much danger though, and in the 78th minute the Ox sealed the deal, scoring his second of the night with thanks to a deflection. That made it 5 for the current campaign for him, already that’s the best goal tally he’s had in a single season. Speaking afterwards, Arsene Wenger said the form of Theo Walcott is something of an inspiration for him:

He has added some belief to his finishing. You have hope every time he has the ball that something can happen. He is of course, powerful but he finishes well. He has added that to his game — that’s linked with confidence. He has worked very hard and is following Walcott in the same way. They are lifting each other.

And a reminder that he still has plenty of time on his side:

At 23 you become a finished article. Before 23 you learn your job; at 23 you become more consistent, you know what’s expected of you, you know how to deal with the pressure, the competition inside the squad. He was so talented so young, in the national team so young that people forget they are still young players.

As I said, there are things he can do better. Work on his set-piece delivery and his crossing, for example, but you can almost see the confidence meter filling up for him. The goals are helping, they’re an obvious measure of what he’s been producing so far this season, and hopefully he can continue to improve as the season goes on.

Before the end Martinez had to make another smart save from a free kick, but ultimately it was a game that we deserved to win. It takes the unbeaten run to 13 games, and we’ve kept 7 clean sheets in the last 8 games. It’s good momentum, and although the team lacked some cohesion, you’d expect that given the number of changes. There were still some very positive signs collectively and individually.

Carl Jenkinson came through the 90 minutes well, and hardly looked like a player who has been out for 10 months. Rob Holding at centre-half did his job impeccably (I’m waiting though, I can’t allow myself to get invested in another young centre-half just yet!); Iwobi, The Jeff, Maitland-Niles all showed they’ve got something about them, and for players like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs, it was a chance to remind the manager they’re not just there to make up the numbers.

Overall, a positive night, although we’ll have to wait for news of the Perez injury. There was no sitting on the bench with an ice-pack, he was straight down the tunnel to get some treatment, but fingers crossed that was just precautionary. The draw for the next round (which is the quarter-finals  I think), takes place tonight – I assume after the games taking place later on.

If you missed it the extended highlights are here, and now we put that one behind us and look ahead to the weekend’s game against Sunderland. More on that in the days to come.

Some extra reading for you this morning as Thierry Henry talks about Arsenal with Alexis up front and his own prospects of being manager one day. For now, that’s your lot.

More from me tomorrow.

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