I doubt Arsene Wenger has witnessed such a one-sided Premier League victory during his tenure at Arsenal. Or even one in which the opposition failed to offer any sort of meaningful test. This was about as routine a victory as you will see. Arsenal still produced good football but just how good, can be debated given the limitations of what Reading offered.
Nigel Adkins took charge of Reading for the first time at the Emirates and having already suffered a 6-1 defeat there this season with his former club, Southampton, may have been a little apprehensive. It would certainly show in his side’s performance.
There was no inherent tactical battle in this game. Arsenal are individually superior to their opponents and Reading were unable to bridge that gap collectively.
With Abou Diaby suffering yet another long-term serious injury, it meant Aaron Ramsey was recalled into the side. Wilshere and Walcott were also both out through minor injuries with Rosicky making his first premier league start of the season. Gervinho joined him in the starting line up with this being his first start since December.
Rosicky assumed the central point behind Giroud with Gervinho right and Cazorla left but as usual, there was a high degree of fluidity and movement from Arsenal in the attacking third of the pitch.
Adkins set the Royals out as a 4-5-1 with Pogrebynak replacing Noel Hunt as the lone striker and Danny Guthrie asked to provide support breaking from midfield.
The tone of this game was set in the opening minutes. Reading fell back to the edge of their penalty area and attempted to defend with only Pogrebynak in advance of the ball and looking isolated around the halfway line. Arsenal dominated possession and carved out a number of good chances which they managed to repeatedly squander.
Arsenal enjoyed a very healthy 70% possession creating 17 chances form open play in the game. Reading seldom offered any sense of urgency or intensity to their play. Arsenal were able to enjoy comfortable possession with little real pressure placed on the man in possession. This enabled Arsenal to build attacks at leisure. The player influence map below shows just how little of a foothold Reading had in this game:-
This lack of influence combined with space provided the basis for the first goal. Gervinho received the ball and turned Shorey far too easily. That was not the problem. As soon as he turned, Gervinho broke diagonally into space. Reading were supposed to be compact and narrow to prevent space between the lines yet after just 11 minutes, Gervinho was running into space. Although Giroud failed to control his pass, Cazorla’s shot was poked home by the Ivorian at the back post. Thereafter, Arsenal squandered chances with Gervinho enjoying a fine game until the final moment when either poor decision-making or poor finishing hindered him. From his seven attempted shots at goal, just one struck the target.
With the opening goal coming so early and the fact that in their last 20 Premier League games when they have scored first, Arsenal have won 17 and drawn just three, this was always to be a significant challenge for the visitors. There are times during games when, if you are playing superior opponents or under sustained pressure, when you simply need to disrupt the fluency of the opponent. It’s cynical but this is not the time for Reading to say they will not resort to a particular style if they want to avoid relegation. For a team in the relegation scrap, Reading did not scrap.
The lack of pressure continued in the second half when Cazorla was left unmarked at the edge of the area to carefully place into the net after receiving the pass from Gervinho. This repeated tactic of standing off their opponent was severely hindering Reading. The side did not close down nor did they control space. They appeared to just try to get men behind the man and opt for the sheer weight of numbers to stop Arsenal approach. It badly failed.
For a team with the pace that Arsenal possess, they are often too slow and not direct enough. The third goal shows what they can achieve when the opportunity presents itself. Gervinho making an excellent run after Reading were extremely sloppy in possession at their own corner kick. Giroud finished well to provide Gervinho with one goal and two assists for his day’s work. The final goal came from Arteta after a penalty was wrongly awarded with the foul occurring outside the penalty area. This did balance out the fact taht Arsenal were denied a blatant penalty in the first half when their former keeper Taylor wiped out Giroud.
The final scoreline in no way flattered Arsenal.
Set Piece Warnings
And yet, Arsenal still look susceptible to crosses and set pieces. On the few occasions when Reading forayed forward and won a corner, Arsenal looked decidedly unimpressive dealing with it. And so it would continue with Reading’s goal coming via a cross. McAnuff had too much time and space afforded to him from Sagna. Perhaps it was lack of match sharpness or a general complacency but the Reading player was able to flight the ball to the back post where Robson-Kanu sneaked in behind Monreal to score.
Despite only have two corners in the game, Reading did hit 13 crosses into the Arsenal penalty area. It’s not as if this is an unknown or unusual tactic that Arsenal face but it remains frustratingly effective for opponents. It’s real problem area that still needs to be properly addressed.
The one mistake Reading made at a corner was when they conceded possession enabling Arsenal to score their third goal. Given the problems they wer causing at set pieces, the ball should simply be launched back into the penalty area. It may not be an overly cultured approach but against Arsenal it can pay dividends.
Reading – Championship Bound
An away game to Arsenal was never going to be an easy start for Adkins nor would the side normally target obtaining any points in such a fixture. Sure, if you gain something, it’s a bonus but realistically, you want a good performance first and if you collect a point, it’s an extra.
Adkins got neither and that must be the most disappointing aspect.
Reading have eight games remaining and realistically probably need to win five of those to stay up. Having won just five league games all season, it’s an extremely difficult task ahead of them. You suspect that Adkins knows this and is already preparing for next season and a push for promotion back to the Premiership.
Player Movement – Rosicky and Cazorla
The two graphics below shows the number of passes made by both Rosicky and Cazorla. Despite supposedly being on the centre and left of the pitch respectively, both move around. It’s this fluidity of movement which creates so many problems for the opposition as they get dragged into a narrow position and concede space on the flanks:-
The strength of movement can create tensions during transitions but Reading simply lacked the quality to do so.
With Chelsea losing and Spurs winning in the race for the Champions League spots, Arsenal did what they had to do, win. Wenger did lament the lack of goals scored considering when the Gunners were so far on top. With such a close fight, it’s not out of the equation that the 3rd and 4th places could be resolved on goal difference.
This is not a game that will relegate Reading despite some claims that they had to pick up at least a point on Saturday. The damage has been done throughout the season. The remaining games gives Adkins time to fully assess his playing staff and begin the process of change ahead of the close season. Adkins is really just steadying the ship ahead of the journey through the Championship next season.
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