Arsenal 2 (Adebayor 30, Gilberto 38) Reading 0
It has been a while since we’ve had a post match glow of a comfortable win at the Emirates, well over two months in fact, but it returned today after what turned out to be a routine win over a Reading side even more devoid of confidence than Arsenal.
The first twenty were quite tame, with the crowd noticeably quiet in patches, but there was none of the ‘getting on the players’ backs’ predicted by the ever helpful Sky team before the match. Adebayor headed a great chance wide, Cesc ran out of steam after being put through by a lovely Hleb pass, while Van Persie was running around menacingly, firing a free kick just wide.
Although chances were been created and spurned, you never got the feeling that it was to be a scoreless afternoon, and the opening goal soon came after a decent break. Toure played a delightful curled ball into Adebayor, who answered every critic who claims he doesn’t finish well by taking an immaculate first touch before casually slipping the ball past Hahnemann. It was Henry-like, and there weren’t too many complaints about the great man’s end product. I guess some people will never be convinced.
Meanwhile, that most rare of things was happening – we were looking deadly from set pieces. Much has been said about Van Persie’s absence this season, mostly citing the goals he would’ve scored had he been fit. It’s all true, but the other facet of his game is his sometimes unplayable delivery from set pieces. He and Cesc were playing a short corner game all afternoon, giving the Dutchman a better angle, and time and time again he was causing panic in the Reading defence with his vicious inswingers. Song missed a good chance, Walcott had a couple of efforts, the only surprise was that no goal ever came about from the tactic. It gives a whole new dimension to our play.
Before half time, the second was scored, and if you ever doubt the regard Gilberto is held in by the Arsenal fans, listen to the reception he got when his long ranger was deflected into the corner. He has been ultimately professional this season, a tough campaign for him personally, for various reasons, and this, his first goal, was no more than he deserved.
At half time, it looked like a cricket score might be on the cards, but thanks to some extraordinary bad luck, no goal came after the break. Van Persie’s free kick hit the underside of the bar, then the inside of the post, and stayed out, a feat that seems almost impossible when you think about it, Walcott hit the bar minutes later, Cesc beat Hahnemann only for Duberry to somehow clear off the line, and then when Van Persie forced an own goal from the same defender, he was wrongly ruled offside, an incident that Match of the Day bizarrely chose not to show, even though they showed a Reading attack correctly ended due to the linesman’s flag. Odd.
All this was ironic, because I’d dared to think after Gilberto’s shot was deflected in that our luck was turning. I tell you, if and when it does turn, someone is going to be on the end of an almighty pasting. Derby, next up in the Premiership, might be glad of the sanctity of the Championship next season.
Some of the second half football in particular was sublime – Walcott was lively, Van Persie superb throughout, Clichy energetic as ever despite a long season, and while some of the attacking players will rightly get the plaudits, I felt Gilberto did an excellent job screening the back four. There was none of the lethargy we’ve seen from him at times this season, he was buzzing around and cleaning up after the rest of the midfield all day.
And even Jens managed to be cheerful about being barged over in the box, simply getting up and not complaining. Not often you see that.
There was, however, one sour note – Hleb reacting to some overly close attention by Murty by slapping him around the shoulder. It was a cuff, not a punch as Murty claimed to the referee, and the Reading captain’s reaction was laughable, but it was a case of raised hands nonetheless, and Hleb is now almost certain to serve a three match ban for violent conduct, which will end his season. One hopes that with all the transfer speculation around him, it does not end his Arsenal career. Somehow I doubt Wenger would let that happen after the patience he has shown with the Belarussian.
So the race for second is still on – Chelsea may be four points ahead, but they play United next, and with a Champions League semi distracting them too, they may drop enough points to be caught. It is a target worth fighting for, if only to end the season on a positive note.
Today was a great start in that – much more like the Arsenal we’ve seen. It could have been six today. That it wasn’t was down to the woodwork and bad luck rather than poor finishing. That in itself is an improvement on last season.