A confident Arsenal team, following two convincing away wins, returned to Ashburton Grove to ease past a Reading side suffering from the heat of a relegation battle and looking destined for the drop.
On another cold day of a seemingly interminable and harsh winter Reading faced Arsenal hoping to benefit from the new manager (Adkins) lift that the Berkshire club was expecting having sacked the previous manager, the ex-Arsenal forward Brian McDermott.
Wenger’s team selection held only a couple of surprises, bringing in Tomáš Rosický for Walcott and Sagna for Jenkinson, but resisting the temptation to bring back Chesney as Fabianski had done nothing to deserve being dropped.
There appeared to be an air of resignation about the away support, perhaps they felt changing managers was not really going to make any difference to their fate.
The Reading fans, although having turned up in numbers, were fairly subdued with the only chanting I could hear, from my unusually lofty position in the upper tier behind the Clock end goal, coming across as indeterminate wailing.
Light flurries of snow preceded the game as winter showed no signs of letting go although by the time the game kicked off only the icy wind remained.
The Arsenal started comfortably making slick, precise passing triangles with the Reading back line looking shaky from the off. The ex Arsenal goalkeeper Stuart Taylor also looked lacking in confidence behind the defence as his clearances were being sliced repeatedly and goal kicks going straight out of play.
As it was the 12th anniversary of the passing of the much respected former midfielder Rocky Rocastle (at the tender age of 33) fan groups were planning to clap for 7 minutes 7 minutes into the game. I was sitting opposite the Red Action corner of the stadium and they seemed to be the only section of the crowd to start the “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky” song and applause at that time, but soon after Rocky’s picture (1967-2001) was put up on the big screens and standing applause was seen all over the ground.
On the pitch it was Santi and Ramsey who were providing a creative/athletic axis across the middle/forward sections of the pitch, ably aided by Rosický who was finding space for his driving runs and his quick changes of direction.
Maybe I’m favouring a fellow electric guitar playing metal fan unduly but I thought his link up play helped the Arsenal midfield to exert a hold on the game that a nervous Reading side couldn’t find a fingerhold onto.
The Reading back four looked edgy and sure enough a gap opened for Santi to exploit and set up Gervinho for a tap in and therefore the opening goal.
Having already scored in the previous league game, as witnessed by the man at the match on that occasion, Tim, Gervinho’s confidence appears to be returning and the Ashburton Grove crowd’s reaction to his goal should bode well for the run in and the goals we’re going to need from the Ivorian.
Support from the crowd means not groaning when one of Gervinho’s mazy runs ends in nothing or one pass too many rather than a shot, if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do with the ball then how do the defenders counter him ? He may be a frustrating player but I believe he adds that random element, that unpredictability that can unlock defenses when he is full of self-belief.
More attacking from the home team and Giroud lobs the Reading keeper and then get’s clattered by Taylor in goal straight after.
While some were calling for a penalty it appeared to me that Giroud had lost control of the ball by the time he was hacked down.
As the half time whistle went there were subdued but contented cheers of thanks from the crowd for the first half goal and a satisfactory performance.
The second half started as the first ended with Reading trying to hold back a red and white tide, and with Gervinho’s dribbles suggesting a dead end would be reached, however a smart pass to Santi from the rejuvenated Gerv and our lead is doubled soon after the restart by a shot curled in with some skill by Santi.
The second goal appeared to kill off any signs of life in the Reading team and their supporters. What response that did arrive was in the form of an easy to save header directed straight at Fabianski (he only had one other save to make in the first half) and by Reading players following through on any stray tackles and clanging the Arsenal player clearing the ball, Sagna being on the receiving end of one of these meaty challenges as well as Ramsey, who got a late tackle from Leigertwood.
A rare spell of Reading pressure lead up to a corner which resulted in a counter attack led by, who else, Gervinho and just as it seemed he’d dwelt on the ball too long he teed up Giroud, who was the first Arsenal player to catch up with the play, who then thumped the ball left footed into the net in a satisfyingly emphatic manner. A well deserved goal not just for the precision of the strike but for Olivier’s hard work off the ground – virtually every aerial challenge he made he seemed to win and also cushion the resulting header over to a team mate.
At three nil up it should have been time for the home support to relax, but instead the Arsenal defence had a dozy moment and Sagna contrived to let a cross in that was an easy opportunity for Robson-Kanu and he duly scored and make it 3-1. Unfortunately in trying to track Robson-Kanu and prevent his shot Monreal slid past the Reading striker and clunked his head against the post – the crowd wincing as they saw replays of the Reading goal finishing with the sight of Nacho’s head colliding with the goal post.
Thankfully Nacho was able to hobble away from the pitch to be replaced by Gibbs; to be frank our Spanish left back hadn’t had one of his better games but the man is all honest effort and endeavour and will be a crowd favourite soon enough. The only dissension I saw in the defensive ranks was a little bit of finger wagging between BFG and Sagna when a cross allowed to get into the box – Kozzer quickly shouted to both of them not to turn their backs on the resulting throw in and no harm was done.
Five or so minutes later Giroud and Gervinho were subbed off with Podolski and The Ox coming on. The plus of that pair of changes was that The Ox went on a surging run into the Reading penalty area and even from where I sat at the opposite end of the ground, the hack on him was a blatant penalty.
This was coolly despatched by Arteta and 4-1 it was with a fuzzy picture the best I could manage from my distant vantage point.
The departure of Giroud did flag up how much we miss his aerial presence, virtually every goal kick of ours was headed back to us once he’d gone off, while when Olivier was there battling it out we retained possession from over 80% of our goal kicks. As mentioned before a feature of our play today was the cushioning of the headed ball and being guided forward to a forward moving midfielder. It does raise the question of who is going to win the headers in Giroud’s absence.
That is a debate for another day as at the moment both the Spuds and Chavski remain in our sights in the top four battle thanks to another three points won convincingly.
Written by Charybdis1966 (on Twitter and youtube)