By Enis Koylu
The enduring feeling that goes with Arsenal this season has been one of disappointment. Stunned by the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, the Gunners have struggled to put together a run of form of note, barring one brief bright spot in September.
The pain of seeing the Dutchman don the shirt of one the club’s fiercest rivals was compounded not only by his free-scoring form for the Red Devils, but also Arsenal’s own difficulties in front of goal as the north London side struggled to break down the likes of Swansea and Norwich.
On Monday night against Reading, however, they looked their old fluid selves. With a previously unused front three of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, they put the Royals to the sword, scoring five goals and clinching three-much needed points.
The writing was on the wall for the Berkshire outfit from the start when Oxlade-Chamberlain made a dart forward on the counterattack within two minutes and forced a strong save from Federici. And soon after they were ahead when Podolski took Kieran Gibbs’ ball in his stride and fired past the Australian keeper.
And so it continued for the following hour. Podolski added a further two assists, Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Nicky Shorey a torrid evening down the Arsenal right, and Walcott added a late fifth to stave off Reading’s hopes of a comeback.
It was a far cry for the Arsenal we have seen this season. The other two players charged with replacing Van Persie most often, Gervinho and summer signing Olivier Giroud, have been disappointing on the whole.
While the latter’s dips in form can be put down to the adaptation that comes with signing for a new club in a new league, the former has shown enough times that he should not be trusted to lead the attack over the likes of Walcott.
His direct running may come in handy when he is in space, though when put under pressure from defenders he has a tendency to run into nowhere, while his finishing has been nothing short of abject save a purple patch at the beginning season which now seems a distant memory.
Giroud, meanwhile, has only looked the part sporadically this season. His lack of ability to run in behind defences has seen many attacks slow down, and although his strength in the air adds a different dimension to the front line, an aerial game is simply not one Arsenal adopt; their midfielders are most adept at passing into space that a quick striker can exploit.
Walcott, meanwhile, is looking to be the finished article more than ever before. His improved finishing has seen him notch a respectable 11 goals this season, despite being confined for a place on the bench for much of the early weeks of the campaign while his pace and skill can see him skip past any opponent. His contract dispute will rumble on, but there is no doubting his value to the team at present.
Podolski, like the England international, has been clamouring to be used as a No.9 but, on the evidence of Monday, is right at home on the left, and it is no coincidence that his two assists came from crosses from that flank.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, has been quick to bemoan his own form in front of goal so far this season but, as Walcott knows all too well, that is a facet of a player’s game that comes with time on the pitch.
Of course, Arsenal’s attacking trio were up against the Premier League’s most leaky defence at the Madejski Stadium, and they cannot expect such a fruitful night’s work every week. However, part of football is momentum and they can take what they accomplished at Reading into the coming matches.
The festive games against Wigan, Newcastle and Southampton present the Londoners with a real opportunity to gain on their rivals for a top-four finish, Tottenham and Chelsea.
Their coming opponents have all had their struggles this season, and are entirely beatable for Arsenal, and, crucially, more than likely to leave holes at the back for the Gunners to exploit.
A good run in December would allow them to carry some form into a difficult January, which sees them face Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in successive Premier League matches – a period that could make or break their season.
The time for experimentation for Wenger is over – he must stick with this triumvirate going forward or risk his side’s campaign irreparably falling apart once and for all.
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