Early Doors

They got their Arsenal back, but for how long?

Early Doors

View photo

It was at 4-0 down in that completely illogical League Cup tie at Reading in October that the visiting fans, smarting from the sting of embarrassment, started chanting "we want our Arsenal back".

It is a refrain that has continued in the weeks since. But after a number of muddling draws, disappointing defeats to Manchester United and Swansea and disaster of the highest magnitude against Bradford, last night, as they opened up a 4-0 lead at Reading, it felt as though they were finally getting a flavour of what Arsenal used to be before crisis mode set in.

The key question is whether this was another all too fleeting glimpse of what Arsenal under Arsene Wenger could become, but lack the mental fortitude to sustain, or a genuine, lasting return to form.

The execution of the first four goals was as stylish as anything seen in Wenger's 16 years in charge: Santi Cazorla the creative hub as well as the poacher who bagged a hat-trick. If the Arsenal they want back was a Wenger vintage in terms of artistic impression, then this was it.

But unlike some of their more accomplished predecessors, calamity is hard-coded into this contemporary incarnation of Arsenal. As Reading clawed one back, and then another, the ghosts of 4-4 draws with Newcastle and Tottenham began to loom large.

There can't be many other sets of fans on the planet who think 4-0 is a dangerous lead, but so it proved again last night as Reading threatened the kind of comeback they themselves were subjected to in that 7-5 defeat in the cup.

But Theo Walcott added a fifth to disperse the tension, ensuring in the process that he will likely be lauded as the new Thierry Henry after his first performance as a central striker for around four years.

Stylish going forward, pummelling weak opposition and always vulnerable at the back, this was a win in some of Arsenal's best traditions. All it lacked was Wenger terrorising a water bottle.

The players though so too. "We showed people the true Arsenal," said Theo Walcott. Jack Wilshere, meanwhile, was a bit more cautious, adding: "We saw the old Arsenal tonight in some patches."

Wilshere was right to be about cautious: last night, Reading offered about as much resistance as a soggy rice cake.

If there has been a worse home performance in the Premier League this season then Early Doors must have missed it.

Their strikers didn't get a sniff, the midfield was bypassed almost entirely and the defence didn't defend. Even their mini-comeback was the result of Arsenal mistakes rather than any quality from Reading.

Frankly speaking, ED could have played like Robert Pires against that rabble. There was so much space in and around the Reading box that Cazorla could have been encased in a Zorb and he still would have scored a hat-trick.

There's no doubt this was a stirring performance. It was the reaction Arsenal had to produce after such a gut-wrenchingly awful night in Bradford. But ultimately it came against a desperately poor Reading side who haven't even scrabbled together 10 points yet this season.

Was a 5-2 win, flashy as some of the goals were, enough to dispel doubts about the future direction the club is taking under Wenger? ED would suggest not.

This kind of performance needs to become the rule, rather than the exception. Still, it gave us all a glimpse of how good Arsenal can be if Cazorla, Wilshere and Lukas Podolski all perform, and perhaps if Walcott is given an extended run as the lone striker.

A goal always legitimises a striker's performance, whether they have had a good game or not, but the truth is Walcott wasn't entirely convincing before his late, well-taken finish. He made some good runs but in fact it was Cazorla who played the poacher, scoring three goals from close range.

It was the first time Walcott had started a game as a striker since 2008 when he played off Emmanuel Adebayor a few times, and the first time he had done so as a lone forward. Conspiracy theorists might have suspected it was a ploy by Wenger to give Walcott a timely reminder that he will get chances in his favoured position and should therefore sign his new contract, but the Arsenal boss said he had been convinced by some performances behind the scenes.

He said: "If you look at my statements from two years ago I said he would play in the middle and I think slowly it became his idea as well. I felt it was a good opportunity to do it tonight and from what I have seen in training I thought he was ready to do it."

That's now 10 goals and seven assists for Walcott in all competitions this season - a very healthy return indeed - and of course the little matter of his unsigned contract was raised again last night. "Talks are ongoing and it's going to be a slow process," he said. "It's taking a long time but hopefully something will happen soon."

"I enjoy playing up front," he added. "I thought I did very well but the players around me make my job easier."

As, in truth, did Reading's. A goalscoring performance in a convincing win might convince Arsenal to go the extra mile in his contract talks, and the manner of the win suggests Walcott as a striker is an experiment worth pursuing. But, like talk of a sudden Arsenal resurgence, any firm conclusion should be delayed until they encounter tougher opposition. And ED doesn't mean Wigan at the weekend.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I've no idea whether I'll shake his hand. It was one of those things that disappoint you in life but you get disappointments and you have to get on with it. I haven't thought about shaking hands yet. But I don't think I should get into that because the last time I heard from Rafa he was threatening to sue me if I mentioned [the row] again. It was an email and I think it was his solicitor who was threatening legal action but I think it had Rafa's name on it. I've got it in a scrapbook at home." - Leeds manager Neil Warnock demonstrates that old wounds have not healed as he mulls over facing Chelsea in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. Warnock was infuriated in 2007 when his Sheffield United side were ultimately relegated by one point after Liverpool played a weakened side against Fulham and lost 1-0.

FOREIGN VIEW: Remember Lyon free-kick bender extraordinaire Juninho Pernambucano? Well, at the age of 37 he has just signed up for New York Red Bulls. Juninho joins the club from Vasco da Gama. "Juninho is a world-class player who our Global Sporting Director, Gerard Houllier, and I have known and admired for many years," said Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh. "Aside from being a top dead-ball specialist and a tremendous talent, Juninho is a fantastic professional both on and off the field. He is in great physical shape and we think he can make a positive impact for us in 2013."

COMING UP: The first part of our exclusive interview with Sir Alex Ferguson drops this morning and Paul Parker and James Horncastle are also blogging for us today. There's some Championship and FA Cup football tonight but Doors won't be there to cover it as it's work Christmas party two of three tonight...

View comments (49)