3 points, but not out of the woods just yet
I’m starting to like these Arsenal-Reading fixtures; they produce far more excitement than one might expect on first glance. It seems that both sides are fully capable of scoring goals and conceding a couple in the process, which keeps me on the edge of my seat for a whole 90 minutes.
Yesterday we saw the kind of Arsenal we know and love, the kind that sweats confidence; I say sweats because the team put in a shift with great effort all over the pitch, illustrating that when they take the bull by the horns they can really make a lot happen. The highlights show it all: fewer individual errors (with two blips that lead to us conceding two, but nothing we couldn’t handle), quicker movement on the ball with a desire to drive forward and keep the pressure on in the opposition half, sharp and accurate passing, and a hunger in front of goal. These are qualities that I would consider part of the Arsenal style of play and all have been missing for weeks now, but yesterday’s game has given hope to some fans that the coming weeks may be positive for the club.
A significant factor affecting Arsenal’s performance was the form of two players in particular: Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla. These new additions to the team have had moments of brilliance in other games, but for the most part these have been isolated. Podolski had a good start for the club in his first few games, but in the last month and a half has under performed woefully, to the point where some questioned his abilities and work rate. Against Reading he proved that he can be a game changer when he gets it right; he scored the first goal from a low Gibbs cross, showing confidence and calmness in the box (later he would assist two other goals, making use of his skills in wide positions).
Our little Santi Cazorla was in a class all his own against Reading and, in fact, gave them a masterclass in how to play the sport. His movement on the ball was superb and his passes on the mark, not to mention his love for taking on defenders seems to have come back. In particular he took to finding just the right positions to be in when in the opposition penalty area, allowing him to score his first hat trick for the club. His first was a splendid low header into the bottom left corner and, after he netted, the Spaniard seemed to be completely shocked that he of all people managed a header due to his deficiencies in the height department. His second came when he controlled a high ball into the box while back on to the keeper and flicked around to suddenly bounce it over the line with his left foot. His final goal, a class finish, came from a play that saw Wilshere pass to Podolski on the left side of the box, who would then cross it low for Santi to redirect past a Reading defender into the right side. Each of Cazorla’s goals, it should be noted, came from plays on the left side of attack, which shows just how on form Podolski and Gibbs were last evening.
I should give Theo a quick mention as well. Walcott got on the score sheet and put in a decent performance at centre forward in the absence of Giroud, who was on the bench after recovering from injury. Theo’s goal came late in the game on a fine pass from Cazorla that put him in and it was just to dance past the defender and slide the ball past the keeper with his left foot. Theo’s making a case for himself each week to get the big bucks in a new contract that fans are eager he sign. He painted a picture for Wenger today that made his potential more than obvious. If I were the manager I’d give him all the money.
With all the positives from the Reading match, we have to remember we’re not out of the woods just yet. We’ve still lost three of our last five matches, certainly not the kind of results we’re accustomed to, and still have a long way to go before we can say with any certainty that Arsenal have turned things around. We are currently in fifth place in the table, just below Spurs, and just a couple of points off third. If we do well in the next couple of fixtures, most of which we would normally expect to do well in, we may find ourselves in the top three by the new year, and that’s a holiday wish we can all get behind.