I will not be using any of the following trite sports phrases in my Reading v. Arsenal match preview today:
Show a good response from the Bradford game.
Reading looking to get healthy.
Two banks of four.
Set piece threat.
or.. MUST WIN.
I will be using the following phrases in my Reading v. Arsenal match preview today:
Jesus High Fructose Cornsyrup Christ.
It’s the darkest, coldest, and wettest month of the year in the UK and rather than holing up inside a Hobbit hole and staying warm with a cup of cocoa Arsenal have made the 36 mile trip from London to Reading to play a little Monday Night Football under the cold lights of the Madejski stadium.
Arsenal’s season so far has been, tumultuous. We never know which Arsenal team will show up for any particular match. Will it be the team that beats Spurs 5-2 or the team that let Manchester United just boss the game without much fight? The team that held Man City to a 1-1 draw and prompted their manager to call Arsenal “the toughest team in the League to play against” or the team who loses to fourth division Bradford and prompts their manager to write “WEAK TEAM!” on the team sheet? Arsenal fans have come to expect the unexpected with this team as it struggles to find an identity and maintain their challenge for the fourth place cup.
Arsenal weren’t helped when they sold the best striker in the Premier League to Manchester United and bought two replacements this summer, both of whom have struggled to show a good streak of form. The German, Lukas Podolski, in particular started the year strong and looked to be Arsenal’s most clinical finisher but has yet to finish an entire match as he struggles to adapt to the physical demands of playing in a 4-4-1-1 and defending like a winger against the more demanding players of the Premier League. The Frenchman, Olivier Giroud, couldn’t crack the starting lineup at the start of the season but has now established himself as the point of Arsenal’s three-man front line – providing an outlet for Arsenal’s long passes and the barrage of crosses that are fed in from the fullbacks.
Giroud is seen by many as the best striker on this Arsenal team but he hasn’t scored since Arsenal’s win over Tottenham which concluded a run of three games (Schalke, Fulham, Tottenham) in which he scored four goals. More critically, he took 15 shots in those three games and in the five game run since has only managed 8. Giroud needs a lot of shots to score goals and he needs someone else to create those shots for him.
That’s why it’s no coincidence that Giroud’s dry run of form coincided with the loss of Theo Walcott to injury as the two were starting to develop quite the little partnership up front. In Giroud’ purple patch against Schalke, Fulham, and Spurs, Walcott scored two goals and chipped in with three assists. And when these two teams last met, with Arsenal winning 7-5, it was Walcott with a hattrick and Giroud who were the key pair.
In many ways, that 7-5 win should be thrown out. It was such a wild result and such a tactically undisciplined game from both teams that pointing to that game for too much insight can be dangerous. But what we did see, as Reading took a 4-0 lead in the first half, was a team that will look to create from set pieces and hit Arsenal down the left.
Nicky Shorey (left back) and Jobi McAnuff (left mid) operate down the left for Reading and have 4 assists each this season. If Arsenal start Theo Walcott on the right, he will be nominally tasked with marking Nicky Shorey while Bacary Sagna will look to keep McAnuff in his pocket. This presents a problem but also an opportunity. The problem is that Walcott is not a good defender, the opportunity is that Walcott is great on counter attacks.
Since Shorey takes all of Reading’s set plays, he will be called upon to get forward and put the ball onto the head of Reading forward (Dread Pirate) Roberts or one of their center backs. If Arsenal can defend those set plays it should mean that Theo Walcott will be available for counter attacks. If Reading play the percentages game, which I suspect they will, then Arsenal have to respond with slick counter attacking football and Theo Walcott will be key to that.
Walcott and Giroud could also do a little bit of the big-man, little-man game that characterizes a 4-4-2. Reading’s center back Gorkss is going too give Giroud a good game today but if the big Frechman can drop deeper into midfield and get some flick-ons, the speedy Walcott could make Reading pay for playing with one of the oldest teams in the League.
Despite my rather hopeful outlook of a fast paced countering team with a bit of 4-4-2 to it, Arsenal fans should be prepared for long stretches of the game to be played in the Reading half. Arsenal’s midfield trio of Wilshere, Cazorla, and Arteta will recycle the ball around the edge of the box as Reading defend deep. Cazorla’s propensity for a long range shot can cause chaos here and I expect him to continue shooting. He’s taken 21 shots in the 6 games and none of them have found the net. Jesus High Fructose Corn Syrup Christ he is due for a goal.
If Giroud and Walcott struggle, then Arsenal’s midfield will probably need to take this game by the scruff of the neck and force the issue. You could see an unusual Arteta to Podolski or Podolski to Cazorla combination in that case. Something to open up this Reading side.
Game is at 11:45 am PST here in the States and is being shown live on ESPN2. Perfect time to drink beer and watch a game.