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Monday 23 October 2006

Many Happy Returns

It was interesting to hear all the accolades from the media after Sunday’s romp at Reading. To be perfectly honest it was an average sort of performance as far as I was concerned. Average that is, when you consider that we’ve been producing that same sort of quality football for most of the season so far. To my mind the major difference on Sunday was that we managed to find the back of the net so early on in both halves.

With the Royals squad containing a number of youngsters, who were deemed surplus to requirements at the Arsenal, I imagined that, with the likes of Sidwell and Harper having such a point to prove, we could expect a similarly robust encounter as was witnessed at the Madjeski last weekend. However if a somewhat less combative performance resulted from Reading being a little shell-shocked after the Gobby One’s outrageous allegations, then I guess they’ll all be needing counselling for a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder after Sunday’s pummelling.

Moreover with any of Steve Coppell’s containment tactics becoming redundant so soon after the start and the break, Reading were forced into a slightly more positive approach. Without us taking such an early lead, I’m fairly sure Reading would’ve been content to try and suffocate the life out of the game, by getting all eleven behind the ball, thereby ensuring sufficient congestion around their penalty area to stifle our passing game. However with the home side chasing the game from minute one, we were afforded the rare luxury of the sort of space in Reading’s half of the pitch that left them looking so exposed to our swift, incisive movement of the ball.

Following on from our midweek defeat and a long journey back from Moscow, you’d think I’d be delighted by such a demolition job away from home. Perhaps it’s Le Prof’s fault, as there was a time when I’d be more than happy for ‘boring, boring’ Arsenal to have hung on to a 1-0, whereas we now all crave perfection. Rubbing shoulders with so many of his ex-Arsenal youth team roomies, I was hoping Justin Hoyte might do himself justice and demonstrate why he’s been the only homegrown youngster to make it onto the first XI. However despite Hoyte having his best game in an Arsenal shirt, I still get this sense of panic at the heart of the Arsenal defence, that a more seasoned strikeforce might take advantage of.

Once Clichy returns to full fitness and we no longer have to merely make do at left-back, Gallas might be able to lend his air of calm, authority where it really matters. And in the meantime, should we concede the odd goal, I guess it’s no big deal, as in our current vein of form, we look capable of outscoring any opposition.

Having never been to the Madjeski before, it might well be a fairly homogenous, identikit type stadium, compared to our lavish new surroundings. But whether his motives are self-aggrandisement or not, you have to marvel at the accomplishments of their chairman, having taken a club that was on the brink of bankruptcy back in the 80s and created an outfit that doesn’t look out of place in the Premiership, with a home to match their new found status in the upper stratosphere.

Come the final whistle on Sunday, I wasn’t sure whether I felt a little pissed off we’d been somewhat profligate in front of goal and in switching off for the last fifteen, we’d failed to really capitalise, on what could’ve ended up the sort of scoreline, which would’ve been more familiar to the philistines from London Irish who share Reading’s ground. Or whether I felt some sympathy for the 20 plus thousand Royals’ fans who hadn’t suffered such a heavy loss since before their chairman started wearing his ridiculous rug and who, at 0-4, would’ve gladly settled for being thrown the bone of a single goal to celebrate, amidst a marvellous family atmosphere

I for one will be well happy for the Royals to hang on to their seat at the top table, if only for the fact that it is such a short hop, that we were back home in time to put my feet up and enjoy coverage of El Classico. Apparently I wasn’t alone and I adored the idea that Arsène Wenger was celebrating his birthday by doing likewise. Yet while I cheated on my first love, by following my Madrilleno main course with a desert of not so light-entertainment (after all I’d already invested a couple of hours in the first part of Prime Suspect), there was no such frivolity for Le Boss, whose idea of a crème brulée was to watch a roundup of “all the goals from around Europe”!

In the past we’ve been used to returning down the M4 motorway with some silverware to show for a schlep to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. However aside from the three points that will keep us breathing down the necks of the competition, we brought something equally important back East on Sunday. Such a commanding result against Reading might not only prove significant in terms of providing this Arsenal side with the confidence to continue to express themselves. It also sends out the sort of warning which might instil sufficient fear in future opposition, that they end up standing off us, showing us the sort of respect which will only aid us in our beautifully elaborate objective.

What’s more, if Wenger has indeed been successful in establishing this entertaining ethos throughout the club, what price Walcott, Traore, Randall and co. running riot at West Brom on Tuesday?

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