I guess there are three things that are inevitable – 1) taxes, 2) death and 3) nail-biting Arsenal games and I’m not so sure that 2) and 3) are not connected.
We should have won the game within 90 minutes but we are yet to do that in the FA Cup at Wembley. Hopefully we save that one for the big final in May. Here are the key points from our victory.
1. Sometimes spending big is a crucial ingredient of success
Don’t get me wrong – it took years of hard-work, patience and clever decisions to make a team like the one we have right now. Yesterday, however, you might have noticed what difference Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez made with their individual brilliance. The German made a delightful pass to the Chilean for our first and also picked him with a pass before Alexis sent a rather meek shot that ended up behind Federici.
2. We weren’t lucky yesterday but even if we were, maybe Lady Fortune gave us back what she took in 2011
Rewind it to fifty months ago when we went through a similar match against Birmingham City in Capital One Cup Final. We were a much better team than our opponents, Ben Foster did wonders in their goal but it was one major misunderstanding between Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny that served the trophy on a silver plate to our opponents. Sometimes it’s about provoking your luck. Or not. We shook the frame of the goal three times and should have sealed the victory before the extra-time period yesterday.
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3. Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs didn’t help their cause
Szczesny and Gibbs have been watching the excellent performances of David Ospina and Nacho Monreal respectively for a long time now. Arsene Wenger gave them a chance to give serious competition to Ooooooooospina and “Crouchy” but neither of them should feel threatened. Szczesny made one good save in the first half and couldn’t do much when Reading scored but he is clearly behind Ospina right now in terms of distribution.
Gibbs, on the other hand, didn’t offer anything Nacho Monreal wouldn’t. He uses his right foot for walking only and doesn’t have positional awareness when defending like Nacho has.
4. Mathieu Debuchy looked rusty, as it was expected
The French full-back played his first competitive match since January and looked rusty which was expected. He was lucky not to concede a penalty when he hand-balled in the penalty box and didn’t offer too much going forward either. It’s all easy to understand – he’ll need match practice to return to his old form. It’s good to have him back and 120 minutes under his belt can do wonders for him. He is still better at defending than Bellerin and our next match is against Chelsea and Eden Hazard, arguably the best player in the Premiership this season; who will attack down the left flank.
5. The refereeing was appalling all day long
Reading played more rugby than football. Our players were poked in the eye (Ramsey), elbowed (Koscielny), axed down (Özil) and forced to leave the pitch due to injury (Mertesacker) but it wasn’t enough for Martin Atkinson to apply football rules instead of sticking to the rugby ones. If the referee was someone who follows the book, Reading would have been down to ten men before the half-time.
On the other hand, the linesmen called offside for the Reading attackers when they were played onside by our defence.
6. Danny Welbeck failed to impress as our central forward…
The Englishman didn’t offer enough to persuade Wenger he should be the leading man of our attack. His pace is an astonishing weapon but he didn’t offer enough in link-up play and was largely ineffective against the Reading defence.
7….while Olivier Giroud proved that he is an indispensable member of the first team
The Frenchman didn’t score but changed our attacking game from the moment he got in. He was unlucky with his extra-time attempt when he hit the outside of the post but his link-up play and the way he got our other attacking players involved proved just how much we had missed him while Welbeck was leading our attack.
8. Alexis Sánchez scored two big goals and leads the scoring charts in four competitions
The Chilean has been mentioned here and there because of the lack of goals in his game in the last three months. His level of performance, however, hasn’t dropped – he always brings energy, never-say-die attitude and ability to score out of nothing. He molested the Reading defence yesterday and was too hot to handle for them. At the end of the day he added two goals to his tally – twenty-two goals in all competitions in his first season in England. And that’s not all.
Right now, Alexis is our joint top-scorer in the league with Olivier Giroud (14 goals each), our top-scorer in FA Cup (3) while already securing top spot in the Champions’ League (4) and Capital One Cup (scored our only goal). The last Arsenal player to be on the top of the score-charts in four competitions was Dennis Bergkamp in 1997-98 with a foot-note – Dennis shared his top spot in the FA Cup with Nicolas Anelka (3 goals each) and League Cup with Marc Overmars, Alberto Mendez and Luis Boa Morte (2 goals each).
9. Per Mertesacker’s absence means Gabriel will have to step up
Mertesacker’s injury didn’t look good and it’s questionable whether the German will feature in the remainder of the season. Enter Gabriel. The Brazilian central defender will probably get into the heat of our run-in starting with our next match against Chelsea.
10. The title race is all but over – let’s focus on keeping our second spot until the FA Cup Final
Chelsea won against Manchester United and the gap is now ten points. With both us and Chelsea having just six matches to go – even if one of those is the direct clash at the Emirates next week – it’s all but wrapped up for the big-mouthed Portuguese and his team.
In a way, the Chavs’ victory over Manure doesn’t have to be a bad thing for us. We are now second with a game in hand but we still have to pay a visit to Old Trafford. It would be great if United slip once or twice before that game (say, against Everton at Goodison Park) so we can enter that game more comfortably. Our goal in the League should be to avoid fourth place unlike the previous seasons when we were targeting it.
So, the next game is at home against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Hopefully Arsene Wenger will remove the stain from his record and beat the Portuguese for the first time.