MATCH REPORT: 2006/2007 Season

22 October 2006: FA PREMIER LEAGUE
Reading: -
Arsenal: Henry (1 mins, 70 mins, pen), Hleb (39 mins), Van Persie (50 mins)
Half Time: 0-2
Attendance: 24,004

Pos Team P Pts GD
8 Fulham 9 13 -3
9 READING 9 13 -3
10 Blackburn 9 12 -2
Reading: Hahnemann, De la Cruz (Gunnarsson 46), Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Ki-Hyeon (Oster 77), Sidwell, Harper, Hunt, Long (Little 73), Doyle. Subs Not Used: Stack, Lita.
Arsenal: Lehmann, Hoyte, Toure, Djourou, Gallas, Rosicky (Song Billong 77), Fabregas, Silva, Hleb (Adebayor 73), Van Persie (Walcott 73), Henry. Subs Not Used: Almunia, Clichy.
Reading: -
Arsenal: -
Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Reading were given a footballing lesson by a stunning Arsenal side this afternoon. There could be no complaints about the final score - although Reading worked hard in their attempts to pull back a consolation goal, and perhaps deserved that for their efforts. Arsenal were in a different league to Reading with a team packed full of world-class individuals working as a solid team unit. It was the kind of performance that Reading will aspire too. Arsenal were also an entirely different prospect than Manchester United and Chelsea, who we had competed on even terms with. They were a much better side than their fellow title contenders and their fast free-flowing football was amazing to watch, making them by far the best side to visit the Madejski Stadium this season. Reading certainly competed, and didn't just sit back and accept defeat, but Arsenal could almost score at will as they cut through Reading's defence time and time again. It was the first time Reading had lost by more than a single goal for years - and the first time the visitors had scored in the North Stand goal for nearly as long. But if it had to happen then this was the game.

With little over a minute gone, Arsenal were ahead with a trademark goal. A quick series of passes, all played low and perfectly to feet, saw a break down the right, and the ball was cut back and driven home by Henry on the edge of the box. We knew it was going to be a tough afternoon. Arsenal's edge was in their perfect passing - Reading initially tried to play similar football but the passes, good as they were, just weren't the perfection of the visitors. Despite the worst possible start Reading settled down and were soon pushing forward themselves looking to take something from the game. After winning a corner, Reading nearly pulled level after a Seol shot that was heading into the top corner was well saved by the Arsenal goalkeeper.

Lehmann shared Hunt's media spotlight in the week by suggesting goalkeepers needed more protection and perhaps should wear protective helmets. I was hoping not to have to mention the whole ridiculous episode, but Lehmann was obviously keen on getting his picture in the papers tomorrow and gave Hunt a finger waving after Hunt challenged for the ball and had to leap over Lehmann at the last moment. Thankfully Hunt's game was unchanged but generally Reading were giving Arsenal a bit too much space. The lack of any bookings in the whole game summed up Reading's usual fair play - something we were famous for until Mourinho did his best to tarnish that reputaion in the week. In fact, it would have been nice to put in a few tackles to stop Arsenal spraying the ball all around the pitch - but they wouldn't let us get close. After Ingimarsson blocked a goal-bound effort, Sonko needed to put in a superb last ditch tackle to prevent a certain goal as Arsenal streamed forward, however usually it felt like the visitors had twelve men. Often a single defender was caught in two minds as Arsenal moved forward with a spare man.

There had been two changes to the starting line-up with Long given his Premiership debut alongside Doyle with Lita left out on the bench. Long worked hard but struggled to make an impact. With Murty out injured and Bikey suspended, De la Cruz stepped into the right back position and had a rough time of it until he was replaced by Gunnarsson at half time. De la Cruz didn't have a terrible game, but he was guilty of running into trouble on a couple of occassions and gifting possession. It was hard enough to win the ball but when we did giving it straight back was unforgivable. A typical fast Arsenal move came down the left and a quick one-two saw the ball blasted into the roof of the Reading net not long before half time. Any chance of a Reading recovery suddenly seemed very slim.

Reading started the second half brightly, but soon found themselves three goals down. There was now clearly no way back, but we kept playing and looking for an opening. After the third, Reading started to enjoy a lot more of the ball - Arsenal had the game won and they were happy to let Reading play. Reading started to carve out some reasonable chances with Hunt going close with a long range effort. A Seol cross so nearly found Long at the far post - his foot was inches from putting it into the back of the net.

However, Arsenal were to increase their lead further. Then, after the fourth goal, with twenty minutes left to play, Arsenal really sat back. The fourth, Henry's second, was from the penalty spot as Hahnemann took down the imressive Fabregas. The spot kick hit the base of the right post before resting in the back of Hahnemann's net. Oster and Little came off the bench and Reading were playing some good football themselves down the right flank. The statistics would have shown that Reading had a reasonable showing as we won a string of corners in the last ten minutes. Oster and Little were combining well and showing some good touches that caused the Arsenal defender problems. From the right, we so nearly scored with a shot seeing the ball narrrowly wide of the far post. However, when a Reading corner was driven was over everyones heads and out for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch, it was clear we weren't going to get a consolation goal. Although in honesty it was a solid thrashing, it was not a disaster. In our first ever Premiership season we can lose at home to teams of Arsenal's quality - as long as we continue to pick up points against teams in the bottom half of the table. With a quarter of the season already gone we're sitting very nicely in the top half of the table. No reason to panic then.

Having frustrated Manchester United and Chelsea in their previous two home games with good organisation and high energy levels, Reading's game plan was undone in the second minute. Fabregas brushed aside Harper and cut the ball back for Henry to side foot past Hahnemann through Sonko's legs. It was a stunning blow from which Reading never really recovered. Surrendering the initiative so early in the game meant Reading were forced to attack, leaving Arsenal with the opportunity to hit them on the break with swift counter attacks. With Henry and Fabregas in outstanding form, there was only likely to be one outcome.

Following that early strike Reading looked edgy and made mistakes that were not fully exploited by the Gunners. Sonko again made a tremendous challenge to prevent a second goal. De La Cruz looked out of his depth throughout the first half. He missed two chances to play an early ball down the line, conceded possession through indecisiveness, and was turned inside out by Van Persie. Understandably he was replaced but Gunnarsson at half time. Even Coppell was seen uncharacteristically issuing instructions near the touchline and looking animated! Reading did their best and managed to cause some anxious moments for Arsenal's defence. Seol forced a good save from Lehmann with scorching drive on twenty-five minutes and Ingimarsson stretched and deflected a cross wide of the post.

Hunt continued to be haunted by the adverse publicity he received last week when he received an undeserved and lengthy lecture from the referee when he nudged an Arsenal defender over in pursuit of a ball running out of touch for a goal kick. There was no harm intended or caused but the referee had obviously been reading the papers. He was not alone. When Hunt leapt over Lehmann as he came out to smother the ball, The German 'keeper unnecessarily wagged his finger accusingly at him.

Just when it looked as if Reading might reach half time only one goal down, Hleb played a one-two on the edge of the box and beat Hahnemann with a rising shot high into the roof of the net. At that point any lingering hopes Reading might have had of getting back into the game evaporated. Four minutes after the interval Arsenal dismantled the Reading defence with an intricate passing move started by Henry and finished when Van Persie dropped off the defence and tucked away his chance provided by Hleb's short pass. With forty minutes remaining it was only a matter of how many Arsenal would score.

The Gunners played some nice football as Reading huffed and puffed but could not find a way through. Hunt wasted a good chance when he blasted over from close range after good work by Doyle. Henry added a fourth from the penalty spot after Hahanemann had brought down Fabregas as he burst into the box to get on the end of a fine pass from Henry. The game slowed to a walking pace at times when Arsenal were in possession and Reading were left chasing shadows. Little and Oster came on and looked eager to make an impression. In the end all Reading had to show for their effort was an impressive tally of corners.

What struck me most about Arsenal's performance was their running and movement and the way perfectly weighted passes were delivered at precisely the right moment over and over again. It was a very humbling experience for Reading to meet Arsenal on top form, but let us not get too depressed about it, after all they are one of the best sides in Europe. Even the Reading fans felt moved to acknowledge the quality of their play applauding them off the field at the end.


Having lived for years in solid Arsenal territory, marginally closer to Highbury and the Emirates than slightly-less-delightful Barnet, there has always been the temptation to watch them more often. For some reason (and not so long ago I was seriously wondering why) I have always stuck with my home-town team. Today, though, I think we saw more than a few glimpses of what makes "the Arsenal" excite. They were clearly a gulf apart in terms of footballing ability and style, and aside from Lehmann's bout of finger-wagging always the consummate professionals. Put them against a Reading team who really failed to find their spark and there was only ever going to be one result. That's not to take anything away from Reading, as chances were created (which might have found the net on any other day) and there was some neat football being played, at least on the few occasions that Arsenal allowed us the ball. I don't think we can deny we need to tighten up, and in particular to stop giving possession away so easily; but there are a lot of positives to take from this game. One heavy defeat, against a world-class side who could pretty-much score four against anybody should they so choose, should be seen as a learning experience rather than a dis-heartening walloping. Looking forward to geting back to winning ways against Pompey next weekend...
Kris, Muswell Hill

Without doubt the best exhibition of how to play the beautiful game of football ever seen at the Madejski. Going down after one minute was the worst imaginable start and there after we were simply chasing shadows as Arsenal passed the ball about with breathtaking simplicity and exposed Reading's skill factor at this level. We never gave up and I was proud the way the team kept going but I think most of us were pleased to hear the final whistle. No way should this result overshadow the brilliant start we've had in the Premiership and I'm hoping we can pick something up at Pompey on Saturday. To me the game did exposed our frailty with our squad which is woefully thin, particularly up front. With the "big three" home games now behind us and a point for all our efforts, time to look ahead again and build on the great work so far. Funny thing about Arsenal yesterday was how easy and simple they made it look, every Reading player should go home and watch that game again , not to rub salt in but to simply learn how football can be played. Back to the battlefield on Saturday!
Nick Newbury

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