OK so here we go again in this roller coaster season we’re having. On paper Arsenal should have no trouble travelling to Reading and knocking the stuffing out of them but how often do things actually pan out the way they should? So let’s take a look at what Reading bring to the plate since the last time we played resulted in an epic 7-5 victory for Arsenal in the League Cup, which is unlikely to happen again…
Brian McDermott’s Reading side attacks in an interesting and innovative way. They use the width of the park to stretch the defense and create crossing opportunities much like Arsenal do but then they utilise their forwards to pull the defense out of position by drifting wide and working the channels, taking the Center Back with them, before pulling the ball back for their midfielders to score from the edge of the area. While this is their primary tactic they also field strong independent strikers in Roberts, Hunt and Le Fondre. Their standard formation of 4-4-2 includes 2 of these threats for Arsenal’s Center Backs to contain, as all three are quite capable of bringing the ball down on their own and turning a defender to shoot. Whichever Center Back pairing Wenger chooses will have to be very alert and quick to shutdown any long range shooting from both the strikers and midfielders if we’re to win this game comfortably.
Looking at the last time we played them and the way that we were shockingly down by 0-4 before halftime is actually quite comforting. The primary problem in this match for Arsenal(besides appearing to be hungover) was the weak secondary defense of Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Miguel and Martinez, that we fielded for the league cup and boy did I feel sorry for Koscielny having to be paired with that lump. Yet Reading deployed their strongest team and still managed to blow a 4-0 lead. This suggests that they are not good at holding onto a win, evidenced further with their 3-4 loss to United the other week and the fact they’ve lost their last 5 matches. A lot of Arsenal’s problems last time stemmed from having a poor defensive line and Martinez(our 4th choice keeper) in goal. Reading found it incredibly easy to run overlaps past our fullbacks and deliver crosses for Roberts to create chances from. Against the likes of Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Gibbs this is far less likely to happen. Particularly with Szczesny also in goal, so we can expect to concede far less stupid goals like the one’s Reading scored that day. I tend to think the primary threat that Reading carry is their scoring from set pieces, 37% of their goals this season have come from this and given Arsenal’s poor record at defending these it’s something we need to be very wary of. While it’s true that Arsenal have become much more solid at defending corners over recent times, freekicks from dangerous positions still fill me with dread. United learnt just last week how deadly Reading can be from these and I believe this will be the main test for Arsenal to maintain a clean sheet.
The best news for Arsenal is that while Reading can score goals, they can’t defend them to save their lives. In particular their penchant for playing possession football in their opponent’s half, coupled with their inability to retain possession for long periods of time makes them extremely vulnerable to counter-attacking football, something that Arsenal do very well. Despite being good at defending set pieces their defense isn’t as organised as it should be leading to a vulnerability against through balls and rather suprisingly a weakness for winning aerial duels. With this in mind I really hope Giroud is sufficiently fit enough to start this match, we saw in the League Cup match against Reading how he changed things after subbing on, quickly ripping their defense to shreds with his intelligent runs off the ball and sending them into disarray for Walcott to take advantage of. This may also be a game for Podolski to redeem himself somewhat in the eyes of Arsenal fans since the last few matches he has appeared invisible on the pitch for unknown reasons. The talent is there for all to see but the desire and hunger seems to be lacking, which I suppose goes for almost the entire team at the moment.
Overall I believe this is a game we should win and win well, which will be dictated by how Reading approach this game. Will they respect Arsenal’s attacking firepower and sit deep in 2 defensive banks of 4 hoping to hit us hard on the counter-attack through the speed of their wingers? Or will they try to play their possession game in our own half despite going up against one of the toughest midfields in the Premier League and having one of the lowest average match possession stats in the league of 41%? The former seems more likely and while on the counter Reading carry an offensive threat, with Vermaelen increasingly looking like the “Verminator” again and not a mouse and the ever impressive Mertesacker, we should have a strong back line further reinforced by the in-form Szczesny. Reading didn’t have to deal with the likes of Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla last time and I truly believe we carry too much firepower for them to prevent us scoring a few goals. Just don’t let Gervinho start at Center Forward… And for the love of god, please let us have an offensive option on the bench just incase, not Gervinho!
Reading Dangermen: Roberts, Hunt, two offensive threats up front that warrant close attention but the biggest threat is Nicky Shorey, the defender responsible for delivering Reading’s dangerous set pieces.
Result Prediction: I don’t see either team keeping a clean sheet unless Arsenal produce a vintage performance. I’ll say 4-2 Arsenal.
Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud
Conclusion: Playing away to Reading means our mad away supporters will get behind the team just like they did in the League Cup match. Arsenal should possess to much firepower for Reading to deal with, there are doubts on if Walcott will start but Oxlade Chamberlain has looked impressive lately and should do a fine job. Overall this should be a good match for our team to gain some confidence from by securing the 3 points. Come On You Gunners!