It wasn't 5-7, but it was still highly entertaining stuff on Monday at the Madejski Stadium.
Arsenal may be in something of a crisis after losing to Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, but a strong showing at the Madejski Stadium will have Arsene Wenger pleased. Arsenal put 4 unanswered goals past Reading before McDermott’s men managed to find 2 opportunistic goals within five minutes of each other.
Readings orthodox 4-4-2 was stretched by Arsenal’s superior numbers in midfield. Their defensive line was fairly high, but this failed to reduce the amount of running space ahead of their penalty area and Arsenal took advantage of this. When they did counter, they did it fairly well. Both of their goals had less than three passes in build up. Their game plan was clear: attempt to win the ball high and quickly put it toward goal.
Wenger fielded a 4-2-3-1. Theo Walcott, got his wish of playing through the center, flanked by Podolski and Oxlaide-Chamberlain. Cazorla operated as a link between the deeper lying Arteta and Wilshere, finding a significant amoutn of space behind Reading’s midfielders.
The Royals played a surprisingly high line that led to high involvement from Arsenal’s wingers and fullbacks. They completely dominated the midfield through short passing, but space and pace were both found and exploited down the flanks to quickly launch attacks.
Arsenal took 67% of the possession with Reading struggling to put together sustained periods of pressure. This statistic paired with their 379 more completed passes than Reading illustrates their dominance of the match. Arsenal also created 6 clear-cut scoring chances to Reading’s 2.
Walcott As A Central Striker
Theo Walcott answered some of his doubters with a decent performance as a central striker. He invited chances frequently with his direct pace. Reading played a surprisingly high defensive line and were highly susceptible to Walcott’s speedy runs across the back of defense.
Before scoring his goal in the 80th minute, Walcott also had a fantastic opportunity to score in the first goal when a through ball played him one-on-one against Federici in goal. The chance was ultimately missed, but it was indicative of a striker who is able to quickly receive a pass and a look for a finish behind a defensive line.
Walcott also demonstrated an admirable degree of dynamism. While his opening opportunity was the result of quick play that played to this pace, his goal was the product of an extended period of possession. Around 14 passes were strung together to create his goal. His position off the ball was vital, and he invited space in areas that maximized his potential of scoring.
Reading Exposed On The Left
Four out of Arsenal’s five goals were assisted down the left. Reading’s Cummings at right-back was given no support from Kebe at right winger, and frequently allowed Gibbs and Podolski a great amount of space to operate in. Both players were able to play quick one-two passes that forced Cummings to over commit, leaving one of the speedy players open to play a cross.
Gibbs and Podolski ended the match with two assists a piece with the German also scoring a goal. Every single Arsenal goal was created down the left flank.
Kebe contributed a well executed goal for Reading and had a perfect success rate with his 6 dribbles, but his largest impact was a negative one. His advanced role left Cummings over stretched, and Arsenal pounced on this opening to great effect.
Page 2: Cazorla's Hat-Trick & Conclusions (click here to view Santi Cazorla's attacking dashboard & the conclusion or click on the page 2 below)
Cazorla enjoyed an easy game and went home with a hat-trick.
Readings 4-4-2 allowed a significant amount of space between their defenders and midfielders. Arsenal’s wingers managed to spread their defensive line as Gibbs and Sagna supported their attacking runs. This stretched Reading’s fullbacks and forced center-backs to cover.
Inevitably, this left open space in the box when wingers went on successful runs. Cazorla’s frequent late arrivals were well rewarded when he found this space. Walcott's speedy runs in front of him absorbed some of the defense's attention and left him with space to exploit. Readings defense was so stretched that the minuscule Cazorla even put a diving header home in the box.
Aside from his scoring, Cazorla was highly creative. He had 7 successful take-ons, and completed 28 passes in the attacking third.
Arsenal were by far the best team. The two goals they conceded were concerning lapse in concentration. However, given recent results, this may well be forgiven, as this is a leap forward for in regards to the their attack.
Reading’s defense was all over the place. Their line was too high and allowed Arsenal an enormous amount of dribbling space. They were stretched and simply not good enough. If this form is repeated, it will continue to be punished.
With QPR finally getting their first win, eyes will certainly shift toward Reading as a new narrative for struggling is needed. The Royals only have one win in the Premier League. They look strong on the counter with the ability to finish chances, but they struggle to find enough time on the ball to put together attacks.
While Arsenal's midweek loss to Bradford is undoubtedly still stinging, Wenger's side looked stronger than it had in quite awhile. Gibbs and Podolski worked a strong partnership on the left flank and jointly produced fantastic performances. Walcott through the center may well be considered a viable option for the future, considering the chances he invited and the space he provided Cazorla when his runs drew markers away from the Spaniard.