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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Madness, utter madness - Reading 5 - 7 (seven) Arsenal

Walcott and Chamakh - the inspiration and the perspiration

There is absolutely no point in trying to analyse the game last night. It was simply beyond the wit and comprehension of any sane person that has ever followed the beautiful game. For the neutral it must have been the most entertainingly mental game of football they'd ever seen. For Gooners watching on TV there was every emotion from the most unbelievable anger at the first 40 minutes of the game, to the most unconfined joy at 4-4 and 5-7. For those who were actually there in the away end what started as a "Why did I bother?" evening ended as an "I was there" night. As for me, I was at work. The first I knew was that we were 4-1 down. I was able to just about follow the closing stages via the BBC website and it was surreal in just about every way you can imagine. I watched the whole game back when I got home, which felt really strange as I couldn't get excited by what was going on as I knew the result, but I was also then able to actually watch what was happening, rather than listening to what I was being told by the commentator.
That first forty minutes was as disgraceful as anything any of us have ever seen from an Arsenal team. Reading played superbly well, but the fact is that most of the Arsenal team was simply not interested. Koscielny was somehow making Jason Roberts look a good player, while everyone else was coming second all over the pitch. It was a continuation of the recent downward spiral. However, where last night is concerned I can actually have some sympathy with the players. Last week Arsene Wenger told the whole World that the League Cup is not important to him in any way. That being the case, why should any player be bothered to put themselves out when the Boss has already said he's not fussed? The fact that you're in that side would indicate he doesn't rate you, wouldn't it? The away end was sold out, which tells you what the fans think about the importance of the League Cup. The singing of "We want our Arsenal back" should have been a clear message to Wenger and the Board that the paying fans have had enough of such nonsense. Perhaps, just perhaps, it provided the necessary kick in the backside that so many of the players needed - I very much doubt it had a great deal to do with Arsene Wenger if recent performances are anything to go by.
The second half was a completely different story. There was clearly an element of Reading freezing a little under pressure, largely brought about by Arshavin and Walcott combining for the goal before half-time. To say that it was all because Reading lacked quality, however, would be to do a disservice to some seriously impressive displays from Arsenal players. Thomas Eisfeld looked superb on his debut (better than Ramsey has looked for a long time, save for the Man City game), Olivier Giroud made an impact with his goal and all round play, while Arshavin also came to the fore and showed fitness levels I didn't think he ever had. Alongside Eisfeld was Francis Coquelin who took the midfield by the scruff of the neck and was superb in the tackle. There were two other players who I really want to single out for praise, however.
The first is Marouane Chamakh whose work rate was absolutely incredible. The Moroccan was everywhere on the pitch, linking play, making tackles, completing passes and then scoring two really good goals. Given some support up front in the form of Giroud he suddenly started to look the player he was two years ago. If ever Wenger should realise his "tactic" of playing one striker is a complete waste of time then this was it. The other player to single out, obviously, is Theo Walcott. Last night he morphed in to Thierry Henry. I have never seen Walcott look so assured in his first-touch, he was running at defenders and swerving past them, he was strong on the ball, and his delivery from wide and his finishing was outstanding. For me that was Walcott's best ever display for Arsenal, and he must play on Saturday at Old Trafford. I have always been quick to criticise Walcott, but you can not argue with what he has done so far this season. He has taken his omission from the starting eleven squarely on the chin, and is doing his utmost to prove himself worthy of the contract he is after. I would love for Walcott to prove me wrong and go on to fulfil the potential he had when he arrived in 2006.
The final thing I want to say about last night is to do with the reactions of Reading to the end of the game. First of all I want to say that we were lucky to score our fourth goal in time added on after injury time. It's something that has happened to us a lot over the past few years, though, and we were due that sort of break perhaps. Having said that, Jason Roberts' reaction at the final whistle was absolutely priceless. He was complaining to anyone and everyone about the extra added time, but the fact is that he caused most of it. Roberts chose to go on a lap of honour when he was substituted, insisting on glad-handing anyone he could, including the referee - it was a bit like watching a Clive Allen impersonator. At the other end of that particular spectrum was Reading Manager Brian McDermott. His interview after the game should be kept by the League Manager's Association and showed as a text-book example of how to lose in a dignified manner. Having witnessed his side give away a four goal lead it took immense guts to come out and talk to Sky at all, but to do it so coherently and with such dignity was a credit to the man and to Reading Football Club. I hope Reading realise what a fine individual they have in charge there, no matter what happens this season. I think McDermott may be destined for bigger challenges in the future, and I hope he will be a success - his intelligence shone through last night and left me seriously impressed.

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