Wednesday, November 30, 2005

MORE NOISE Arsenal 3-0 Reading

Reading came, saw and lost last night at Highbury as 23 million pounds worth of striking talent proved the difference between Arsenal's impressive young guns and the Championship leaders, themselves having made 4 changes to the starting line-up which defeated Plymouth Argyle.

This was a chance to make some national headlines and ensure that people sit up and take notice of the best team outside of the Premiership, but with both sides fielding line-ups rather different to their usual league offering this game was often lacking in bite and was verging on the tedious at times. That is to take nothing away from Reading, who passed the ball well and created plenty of half-chances. Unfortunately, Leroy Lita and a recouperating Dave Kitson are not quite in the class of Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin Van Persie and it was the tidy finishing of the latter pair which put Arsenal well on the way to a place in the Carling Cup quater-finals before half time.

Any sense of disappointment at a first loss for Reading in any competition since August 6th must be tempered by the fact that Coppell was using his 'Carling Cup line-up' to sensibly rest the likes of Hahnemann, Convey and Little for the more important league games ahead; if that policy is good enough for Arsene Wenger it's good enough for us. The league, after all, is our bread and butter which presumably makes the Carling Cup the raisins and sultanas. Nothing really was learned or gained from last night's visit to the historic Highbury in it's final season, but nothing was really lost either. Pride most certainly intact, and that view seems to be shared by the national media and Arsene Wenger, going on what Floyd on Football has read today.

On a chilly night more suited to staying in in front of the telly, it was a case of I'm a Celebrity.....Get Me Out Of Here! as far as Arsenal were concerned, as the likes of Henry, Pires and Pires were predictably rested in favour of a rather unfamiliar and fresh faced side. It was the star names of Reyes and Van Persie who did the damage on the night though, and it was the Dutchman who had the game's first effort on goal with a skidding shot that flew past the post with Stack, one of three ex-Gunners in the Reading line-up, beaten. It was not one way traffic though, and Reading came close to scoring when Kitson flicked on Hunt's cross with Sidwell in attendance, before the flame-haired striker with twenty stitches from a recent training ground head wound was denied by the advancing Almunia after creating an opening with his own clever foot work.

This got the majority of the 7,000+ travelling support out of their seats to give their team some vocal support, but generally the noise-levels were mediocre throughout. The Arsenal supporters, to be fair to them, made as much noise and got about as excited as we would with a Carling Cup victory over, for instance, Swansea City. You could sense amongst the Reading support, however, that many were there on a rare night-out as day-trippers. The people sat directly in front and behind where Floyd on Football's team of reporters were seated in the middle of the Clock End were impassive, almost mute at times. Whilst Floyd on Football would, within reason, defend the right of any supporter to follow the team in whatever way they see fit, it would be quite fair to say that as many as ten times fewer travelling Reading supporters have made considerably more noise on opposition grounds in the past. It would also be fair to say that 7,000+ is not the usual size of an RFC away following and you have to wonder what exactly in life excites those hushed part-timers because it certainly isn't football; Dado Rails perhaps, 20% off at House of Fraser or possibly (and aptly) an episode of Waking The Dead?

Any excitement was tempered after 12 minutes as Arsenal moved ahead courtesy of REYES springing the off-side trap and easily rounding Stack. Reyes showed with his movement and passing what a wonderful footballer he is, but Floyd on Football found his constant cheating rather tiresome and would be loathe to call the man a class act. Luckily, referee Mason did not buy into the Spaniard's cheating which failed as badly the Armada. Van Persie was foiled by Stack and Lita was similarly stopped by Almunia, whilst Harper, on a mission to prove that Wenger was wrong to let him leave Highbury 4 and a half years ago, was denied by a camera-save by the Arsenal 'keeper following a clever curling effort. Shortly before half time Kitson stooped to head straight at Almunia and, in a style not disimilar to Reading's opener at Home Park on Saturday last, the Gunners counter attack was of swift and devastating quality - VAN PERSIE netting with a low drive after a Reyes lay off.

The game already just about up for Reading. Perhaps Little and Convey may have provided more attacking quality than the willing but at times unable Oster and Hunt, but Coppell chose to leave two key players on the bench for the duration. Reading refused to buckle without a fight and continued to play some decent football, Hunt taking the ball off Djourou's toes and advancing in on Almunia who smothered the Irishman's indecisiveness. The loose ball fell to the otherwise imperious Sidwell was generally back to something approaching his domineering best on the night but his effort was smashed wide and thus highlighted the key difference between the sides. The flattering third goal arrived when Superman was caught in possession and a rare mistake allowed LUPOLI to run clear and round Stack in a Reyes-esque manner. Stack, who earlier denied Gilbert in sensational style, is number 2 for a reason; that reason in the opinion of Floyd on Football being that he is slow off his line on ocassion and when he does react it does seem that he can be rounded with almost consumate ease - a definite weakness.

Doyle came on and injected some life and pace into proceedings; he was hacked down by Cygan earning the clumsy Collina lookalike a yellow card and then arrowing a header which was touched over the bar by Almunia. That would have given Reading the goal we most definitely deserved, but in the end it was the quality of Arsenal's finishing which took them through to leave Reading to concentrate on accumulating enough points to make visits to Premiership grounds a regular fixture next season. That will be something worth making plenty of noise about.

Reading: Stack (Hahnemann, 82), Murty, Shorey (Makin, 59), Ingimarsson, Sonko, Oster, Sidwell, Harper, Hunt, Kitson, Lita (Doyle, 72). Subs not used: Little, Convey.

Floyd's Favourite: Sidwell. Performed admirably on former stomping ground.


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