Arsenal stormed back to the top of the English Premier League with a display that seemed indignant of Reading’s mere existence at times. It did, however, look more like a match Reading would sneak while Arsenal remained profligate, with Reading parking the proverbial bus in front of goal.
As early as the fourth minute of the match, Adebayor hit the post after a quickfire move, with Fabregas trying his range from distance to fire over the bar. For long stretches though, Arsenal were being frustrated, with Adebayor looking isolated again as the lone-striker up front.
Toure tried one of his mesmeric runs at defence, only to be met by a wall of Reading defenders. Prior to the match, I had predicted Arsene going out with a 4-4-2, but for some reason or other, Rosicky came in for Eduardo on the left wing of a 4-5-1. Many have criticized the formation, particularly when we used it so benignly against Slavia Prague, though the comments made on a host Arsenal blogs is all the more bemusing, especially with the criticisms levelled at Adebayor.
Against the run of play (there was not much of a ‘run’, more like camping inside Reading’s half), Shorey broke down the left. Gael Clichy managed to clear the danger, but only as far as Gunnarsson who hit a well timed volley from distance, forcing an acrobatic save out of Manuel Almunia. Happy Birthday, Jens Lehmann.
From a freekick, Toure shot wildly over, while Adebayor teased the Reading defence before laying the ball off for Eboue, who shot, like his fellow Ivorian, wildly. Wildest Africa, anyone?
Just as everyone felt like complaining about the world, Matthieu Flamini tackled ex-Arsenal englander James Harper. The ball broke to Eboue, who fed Adebayor, who in turn passed to Aliaksandr Hleb. Hleb crossed the ball in for Flamini to finish, slightly fortituously, but all to give Arsenal a more than deserved lead before half time. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The second half had barely started before Arsenal scored the perfect training ground goal for their second. Hleb overlapped Adebayor on the left, who fed in Fabregas. The young Spaniard passed first time to Adebayor to finish an astutely beautiful goal – how fitting that registers as Arsenal’s 1000th goal in the English league.
Sweet vindication, then, for Adebayor – when he scores in a match, you can usually bet he’ll score another in the match right after, though with the international break now upon us, that theory may come under a little stress.
Hleb played in Adebayor soon after, who rounded the keeper brilliantly to slot in for what should have been 3-0, only for the striker to be ruled wrongfully offside. You cant have brilliant calls every match, it seems. Adebayor was blowing holes in the porous defence, flagged offside again after finding miles of space just minutes later.
Arsenal were now toying with Reading. Hleb set up Fabregas, who shot over again. Fabregas tried to cut open the defence with a trademark pass into the box, which was deflected out. The bobbling ball that found its way to the feet of Hleb, was about to find itself in the back of the net once more, in a wizardly moment of individual brilliance.
Hleb picked up the ball outside the box, jinked back and forth to dummy the defenders. Hahnemann advanced, and Hleb draged the ball around the keeper to sensationally slot in for the third goal. People going on about Tevez being the new George Best are taking the piss. Hleb has been one of the top five players in the league this season, and he had the mortgage paid in full in this match.
In the 86th minute, Reading’s Hunt sent in a ball from the left, which saw a goal line scramble which Nicky Shorey eventually tapped in for Reading’s consolation. Fabregas had earlier picked up a booking earlier, which means he will miss the Wigan match after the international break. After the way they capitulated to Spurs – of all teams – the other day, Fabregas should not be missed too much.
3-1, then, and we’ve pipped Manchester United to the top once more, going into the international break, with a game in hand to bank. The game certainly did highlight the need for van Persie to partner Adebayor once more, and with Fabregas out for the Wigan match, the Dutchman will be a very useful player to hopefully pull us out of any trouble the way he often does.
Third-Gen player ratings as follows:
- Almunia: 6.5 – Discovered the art of twiddling thumbs while Arsenal’s midfield dominated Reading in the opposing half, but had a great acrobatic save of note to make off of Gunnarsson. Not entirely at fault for the late goal conceded – a quiet day.
- Sagna: 6 – soilid as usual, but the number of runs Nicky Shorey was allowed is questionable.
- Toure: 6.5 – not too much to do today – a gallant run at the defence saw him stopped short in the first half. His partnership with Gallas develops after every match, though they could have done more to prevent Reading’s scrambled goal.
- Gallas: 6 – the defence had a quiet day all round today, though Gallas’ command of his line has room for improvement, given the lack of control evident in Reading’s goal at the end. Otherwise fine.
- Clichy: 6.5 – his pace shut out most attacks down his flank, and kept most Reading counter-attacks quiet. The midfield’s dominance made his life a lot easier.
- Eboue: 6.5 – distributed well, for the most part. A new element to his game is shuffling the ball towards the inside of play, at the defenders. Though he looks dangerous at times, his best weapon will always be his cross, which has been absent lately.
- Rosicky: 6 – It gives a mixed message that the midfield is only being awarded 6’s thus far despite their dominance – Rosicky was certainly a part of that, but the fans are certainly looking at Rosicky to be much more ‘dangerous’ a player than he has been thus far. Did not play poorly by any means, though.
- Fabregas: 6.5 – mix and match day for Fabregas. Always a central reason to Arsenal’s midfield dominance, but was arbitrarily wasteful in front of goal.
- Flamini: 7 – selected again ahead of Gilberto, and was never a pushover despite Gunnarsson’s occassional thuggery. Good to have his first goal chalked off – the usual performance we’re coming to expect from Flamini.
- Hleb: 8.5 – masterful. The fulcrum of Arsenal’s play tonight, linked up with Fabregas, Clichy and Adebayor beautifully tonight, and a good cross for Flamini’s goal. His goal for Arsenal’s third was a thing of beauty and craft – is having the season of his life, thus far.
- Adebayor: 8 – started the match by hitting the post early on, then became isolated up front. Was a different player in the second half – scoring early, scoring another that was wrongfully deemed offside, and breaking through a wide open gap of the home defence before being ruled offside again. A dangerous player, who may be enhanced with van Persie’s return. A great game for the striker.
- SUBS: Diarra, Walcott and Bendtner replaced Hleb, Rosicky and Adebayor respectively – the team was playing for time once they were all on the pitch – racking up the minutes on their resumes.
In other news, Wenger has mysteriously revealed he may be looking at strengthening the side ‘in a certain area’ come the January transfer window. The coy manager said:
“I don’t think I will get anybody in but if I get one opportunity in one area then I will not neglect it.“
What a sneaky little man he can be sometimes. Any bet he’s referring to a winger? I do not want to hear one more ‘Ricardo Quaresma is coming!’ rumour – the boy’s too slow and showboat-y to play the way we want – but Rosicky’s performances do sometimes leave a sour taste in the mouth. I love the player – his technique is second to none, but he really has to start applying some authority to his games, soon.
In other news, Wenger wants the captains to be the only ones allowed to talk to referees during the game, and Flamini reflects on his talks with Patrick Vieira before he decided to stay with Arsenal. And what a decision that was.
Now begins the arduous task of blogging during the international break. Enjoy your lives for me, all of you.