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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Santi's early Christmas presents

More often please


When Santi Cazorla decides to play Arsenal tend to win. The same thing applies to Lukas Podolski. The problem is that this happens far too rarely. When you see the way the little Spaniard performed last night you can see why he quickly established himself as a fans favourite at Arsenal. The touches, the skills, the shooting, even the diving headers (!) were all there at Reading. We also saw it at Liverpool and at home to Tottenham. Exactly the same things, and the same games, apply to Podolski. The German looked a yard quicker last night, particularly in setting up Cazorla's first goal. He came alive in the penalty area when Gibbs pulled the ball back towards him for his goal. When Podolski is at it you will see Arsenal doing well. What I want to know is why it happens so sporadically. Last week at Bradford Podolski looked as disinterested as it's possible to be (in fairness to Cazorla he was one of the few bright spots last week). Whatever it is both men need to produce this sort of form consistently if Arsenal are to fight their way in to the Champions League for next season (a week until Christmas and that's already the limit of our Premier League hopes, I'm afraid).
It was difficult to "enjoy" last night as such. If I'd been there I would have been loving it, I'm sure. Sat at home, with all that's happened recently, I couldn't help but feel a little detached. The team has a lot of ground to make up, not only in the League, but also with the supporters. Performances like last night will go a long way to doing so, and there is plenty of opportunity for that over the next three weeks.
Theo Walcott finally got to play up front last night and I thought he took his opportunity. He should have scored when one-on-one in the first-half - the type of chance he normally buries - and got his deserved goal to make the game absolutely safe after our usual second-half panic. I agreed with Gary Neville that Theo might be a bit lost in the role against different opposition, but Reading's defenders were simply scared stiff by his pace. I would also say that a change of tactics/formation against other, better, opponents would mean Theo could still play in the middle. I'm sick of us playing with one man up front, especially at home, so why not play to our limited strengths? Of course Walcott looks less and less likely to be here come August (maybe even February) so Arsenal must make the most of him while we have him. I didn't like his comment after the game that contract negotiations "take time" as that is utter nonsense - just ask Jack Wilshere who was standing next to him at the time.
Of course we had our wobble when Reading got a couple of goals through our own sloppy play. Kieran Gibbs was at fault for the first of those and I thought he had a poor night all round. He was constantly out of position and sloppy with his passing. If it had been Andre Santos people would have been on his back, but in fairness Gibbs has made bad games a rare thing so I think he can be cut some slack. Just so long as it's a few months before we see it again.
One of the reasons we had our panic (apart from our fragile mental state in defence) was that people still refuse to shoot. Cazorla, a couple of times, Chamberlain (who had another good game as his return to form continues) and Wilshere all passed up opportunities to have a go at goal. When Reading scored we had the usual worries. Thankfully Theo calmed the nerves, but not until after the Manager had put us under further pressure. Chamberlain was all over Nicky Shorey with his pace, so to replace him with the pedestrian Ramsey and invite pressure was madness. For all his failings, the running power of Gervinho would have kept us on the front foot.
The main thing that struck me last night was a willingness to play the ball forward for a change. We move the ball at pace and ran at defenders. The ball to Podolski in the lead up to our second goal would not have happened at Bradford as everything was slow and square and backwards. It's not rocket science. When Arsenal play at pace, as we did against Spurs for example, we can destroy teams. Just like in the old days. When Reading got their first goal back we reverted to type and Mertesacker and Vermaelen saw far too much of the ball. This allowed Reading to press us higher up the pitch and put us under pressure. This is where we lack leadership. We need someone to step up and grab the game again by the scruff of the neck and get us on the front foot. In years gone by this is where you'd have seen Tony Adams come out of defence, or Kolo Toure go on a storming run, or Patrick Vieira put in a few tackles. That's what this Arsenal team lacks.
Overall you have to be pleased with a 5-2 win away from home. Cazorla delivered a master class and gave us three early Christmas presents. I hope we can have one or two more at Wigan on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether the players will have Boxing Day off. I know the Club were expecting that to be the case a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn't complain at all as I hate Boxing Day football, especially when it kicks off later than midday. For now, let's enjoy a nice win last night.

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