What we saw last night was arguably the weirdest match since someone noticed how amusing it can be if you try to put the ball between two sticks using either your feet or head. We were four goals down, our defending was giving “Old-Trafford-8-2-defeat”-deja vu (we had three quarters of the defense from that game – Jenkinson, Djourou and Koscielny, with Coquelin being a shield or at least one of them) and it was like watching the best chance for a trophy being evaporated by one of the worst teams in the Premiership.
We all know what happened next – Walcott gave a hat-trick hero performance and added a couple of assists making a case regarding his new contract, Giroud proved he is not “Chamakh” by scoring a goal and winning more or less every duel against Reading defenders and Chamakh decided to make “being-a-Chamakh” a no more insulting adjective.
If you ask me what was the biggest positive from last night, I’d say: “Being on the right side of a impossible come-back for once.” Ever since Arsene Wenger had a dream about seven slim cows eating seven fat cows we were witnessing some incredible come-backs with us being on the wrong side. After those come-backs our team lost a lot on the psychological level and went straight on horrible streaks of defeats or draws that were equal to those defeats. It’s no wonder Wenger mentioned last night what a change of result from 4-0 to 4-2 does to your confidence if you were winning at the moment – he tasted it last year in season 2010-11 against Newcastle away when a goal from Cheick Tiote started the avalanche that destroyed our season expectations. In 2008-09 we lost two valuable points against the Spuds at the Emirates thanks to sloppy defending – it was 4-4 despite we were leading 4-2 in the 87th minute. What was even worse, we didn’t lose just two points in that game – we lost confidence and after a string of bad results our title hopes were over.
Someone could argue and say: “Oh, it was only the League Cup, we won it after extra-time and there is no extra-times in Premiership and Champions’ League!” It might be the truth but last night there were more than a few players that will feature in the Premiership and Champions’ League as well and losing against Reading, arguably the worst team in the league, in a humiliating way like we lost the first half, would probably damage the confidence of Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny, defenders that will have a bigger share of first-team football this season, while Martinez’ (despite his mistakes last night, it should be said he did make few decent saves and probably earned the hairdryer from Wenger for kicking out the ball in a counter-attack instead of time-wasting) career would be practically over.
Last season, we won 3rd place and a Champions’ League spot thanks to our ability to make come-backs and score winning goals in the last minutes. We made come-backs in league matches against: Chelsea, Norwich, Liverpool, Sunderland and finally West Bromwich Albion (away), Newcastle and Tottenham (home). In the last ten minutes we won matches against Chelsea, Liverpool, Sunderland (twice), Newcastle, Aston Villa and Manchester City. It means we snatched 14 points in that period (without those points we would have ended our season in 7th) and that speaks positively about team last season. I mentioned this because last night Theo Walcott managed to score a hat-trick scoring goals only in stoppage times which is probably a unique feature. Scoring goals in the last minute of the first half gives an encouraging impulse to the players and they go into their second half with more confidence and that is why Walcott’s chip was a crucial moment of the match.
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Speaking of Walcott, his performances this season speak for themselves. He scored seven goals this season which makes him our best scorer with an impressive minutes-per-goal-stat – Walcott needed only 69 minutes for a goal this season. He produced a fantastic performance last night and I think Wenger should give him what he wants – a new contract and a chance to play as a striker. His finishing is probably the best in our team while his pace adds sharpness to our team. Furthermore, his ability to cross can do wonders for our other striker – Olivier Giroud who has suffered from a lack of decent crosses.
Giroud did a great job last night and his performance was exactly what I expect from him. Two goals from Marouane Chamakh was also a positive thing – it proves that he still possesses qualities that made him attractive to Wenger in the first place. He participated in the build-up of his first goal with a nice back-heel pass to Giroud and managed to exploit a mistake from the Reading defender. Arshavin needed a goal desperately but aside from participating in two of Walcott goals he should be comforted by the fact he showed something that he was missing last season – desire and passion. The Russian magician can produce excellent performance against even better opponents than Reading but he will have to use his playing time in the best possible manner. Lukas Podolski has been substituted in every single appearance this season which means Arshavin may impose himself as a Golden Substitute if he uses his freshness in order to break opponents in the last 20 minutes. He enjoys playing in a central position as the attacking midfielder but given that Santi Cazorla is our best player, Arshavin will have that place only when Cazorla is rested by Wenger or injured/suspended.
Conclusion: this might be the impulse we were looking for all these years. It is good that the black-out in defense happened against Reading – if it happened against Manchester United, we would remember last seasons defeat at Old Trafford with nostalgia. Our attackers saved the day giving hard arguments for their cases and it seems we have more talent in that department (Eisfeld, Gnabry) than in defense (Miquel, Martinez). Theo Walcott should be handed a new contract unless Wenger manages to find a replacement with equal pace and finishing. Oxlade-Chamberlain currently suffers from second-season-syndrome that can hit players as well as teams, while Walcott is only 23 and if he leaves he will enjoy his best years somewhere else.