Here’s the thing with writing regularly about a side as schizoid as this current Arsenal one: either you stick to your overall thesis, and risk being accused of having a negative/positive agenda, or you end up flip-flopping wildly with the results. I prefer the latter, because although it might make the blog seem like the creation of a reactionary fanny, (hint: it is), it also means never having to filter what I’m feeling.
And what I’m feeling this morning is fairly chipper. Yes, it was only Reading – but guess what, every team has to play them twice, and the points count the same as the ones earned against the Manchester clubs – and no, it doesn’t change the utter ignominy of the Bradford defeat, or the wider concerns about the club’s general direction of travel.
However! What last night delivered was proof positive that this Arsenal side is still capable of playing sexy football, which I was seriously coming to doubt. Even in the best performances of the season - Liverpool and City away – we’d looked more organised, efficient, and other dry adjectives rather than swashbuckling, buccaneering and other piratical adjectives.
Whisper it, but last night we were actually very watchable indeed. Other than against Southampton at home, when they conspired to score twice on our behalf, we haven’t really cut loose against sides this season. In fact, on several occasions we’ve been outplayed - but there was genuine swagger in the way we attacked Reading yesterday.
Before kickoff there was general excitement about the line-up, in no small part due to Gervinho being dropped like a smoking uranium rod, replaced by Walcott in the central striking role. In the end, despite scoring the gloss fifth goal that made the points safe, (lol), the game wasn’t really about the Chelsea/United/Liverpool winger.
Our zippy performance hinged on the interplay between Cazorla, Wilshere and Podolski, Arsenal’s own three kings, whose sharply angled passes, bursts into space, and tidy shooting were simply too much for McDermott’s men to live with. That they only shipped five flattered Reading, and when you’re letting a pixie like Santi score stooping headers you probably need to be having words with yourself. And those words are: parachute payments.
Still, in the unlikely event anyone thought our own problems had evaporated overnight, two equally inept pieces of play saw Reading halve the four-goal deficit in less than ten minutes. First Gibbs hung Jack out to dry with a hospice pass, then Podolski played everyone standing below the Watford gap onside. Achtung, Poldi!
And so we wobbled. Dark thoughts of the 4-4 at SJP began to bubble up. As co-blogger Dave, watching the game with me, noted: “It’s not just that we make individual errors, it’s that every one of our’s seems to end in a goal. As soon as you see someone slip over near our box you know the other team is netting.” #realtalk
In the end it was left to young Theodore to settle the nerves with a well-taken finish. (Although let the record show he’d also wasted a couple of equally presentable chances. Sighters, let’s call them.) I can’t be bothered to engage with his response to the inevitable contract questions after the game, other than to say: 1) What would you say if you were off, but wanted to avoid as much acrimony as possible. 2) I’d be less surprised if Cesc flew in to Colney on Christmas morning and signed a new deal at this point.
A word on Podolski before we wrap up. Although Cazorla will take the match ball and the headlines, it was the German who caught my eye. He was as influential last night as he was anonymous against Bradford. Perhaps he’s simply the sort of player who needs those around him to also be firing in order for his own game to spark.
That sounds a little like excuse-making on my part, but he needs people to play one-twos with, to get on the end of his excellent crosses and to help tee up his hammer shot. Whatever the truth, we need a run of consistent performances from a player who’s one of the biggest tickets on the wage bill. The understanding that looks like it might grow between him and Jack, who was again magisterial, is particularly promising.
A few games ago I mentioned that in life, and especially sport, we tend to overvalue the most recent piece of data when it comes to making value judgments. As chipper as I feel this morning, it won’t count for much unless we show the same energy and creativity against Wigan on Saturday lunchtime.
As for the overall thesis thing, I don’t think I’ll be willing to start talking about any sort of turned corners until we string a run of ten games together without any of the shuttle crashes that have punctuated the season so far.
We’re aiming to have a new podcast up before Saturday’s game, so no doubt there’ll be plenty of direction of travel discussion in that. (In the meantime, I highly recommend listening to The Observer’s Amy Lawrence on this episode of The Anfield Wrap podcast. She’s spot on about Kroenke’s stewardship, and what the fans ought to be doing about it.) But for now, that’ll do Arsenal. That’ll do.