Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Reading on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Anthony Smith for their views.
MICHAEL COXReading’s surprising decision to sack manager Brian McDermott, and their subsequent appointment of ex- Southampton boss Nigel Adkins on Tuesday, feels like a switch between similar managers. Both were experiencing Premier League football for the first time this season, and both appeared tactically naïve in the opening months, before gradually adjusting to the division.
Adkins has already visited the Emirates in 2012/13, for Southampton’s 6-1 defeat here in September. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, his side were ripped apart down the flanks, with Kieran Gibbs enjoying a great afternoon – primarily because Southampton’s wide players offered their full backs little support. However, for the return fixture at St Mary’s in January, he had clearly learned his lesson – in a 1-1 draw, Arsenal attempted only six shots, their lowest total of the season. There was considerably more structure and positional discipline from Adkins’ players.
Under McDermott, Reading also discovered that the strategy successful in gaining promotion wasn’t suited to life as Premier League underdogs. In Arsenal’s 5-2 victory at the Madejski in December, the Royals used a 4-4-2 formation and were completely outnumbered in the centre of the pitch by Arsenal’s midfield trio, with Santi Cazorla finding enough space to bag a hat-trick. When Reading switched to 4-2-3-1 in the second half, at 4-0 down, they started to compete in midfield and got two goals back.
Arsenal will seek to dominate possession on Saturday. Arsène Wenger’s emphasis upon passing has resulted in an average of 58 per cent of possession this season – the highest in the Premier League – whereas Reading have enjoyed just 40 per cent, the lowest in the league. Considering today’s opposition have also attempted the fewest shots in the league and allowed the opposition the most, it’s no wonder they sit bottom of the table.
"Set-pieces will be another key route of attack for Reading, with centre back Sean Morrison – not always a starter – particularly dangerous"
It’s also interesting that Reading have attempted the fewest tackles in the league, considering they spend so long without the ball – they’re accustomed to dropping back into two banks of four, rather than putting pressure on the ball.
Reading’s main threat comes from the flanks, especially when they play a 4-4-2. Right-sided Jimmy Kebe, with his tall frame, dangerous change of pace and number 14 on his back, has a touch of Thierry Henry about him when on form. Jobi McAnuff plays a slightly more refined role on the opposite side, with back-ups Hal Robson-Kanu and Garath McCleary capable of playing on either flank.
Up front, Reading have various options. Pavel Pogrebnyak should return from suspension to play a static target man role, while Noel Hunt is full of running and puts defenders under constant pressure. In Adam Le Fondre, Reading also possess the league’s most prolific supersub – he won the January Player of the Month award despite not starting a game in that period.
Set-pieces will be another key route of attack for Reading, with centre back Sean Morrison – not always a starter – particularly dangerous. Ian Harte is still capable of devilish deliveries with his left foot but he could see his lack of pace exposed when Arsenal attack.
ANTHONY SMITH, THE READING CHRONICLEIt's hard to tell how this will go, with Reading recently appointing Nigel Adkins as their new manager. The odds are heavily stacked against them.
The fans seem to have warmed to Adkins. Some fans feel the change has happened a bit too late, and that it should perhaps have happened at around Christmas time. He's got a good track record. The fans had a close relationship with Brian McDermott. Most of the fans loved him and didn't want him to go. That's not Adkins' fault though. He's got a job to do now and will be keen to get up with it.
"The fans seem to have warmed to Adkins. Some fans feel the change has happened a bit too late, and that it should perhaps have happened at around Christmas time"
Hal Robson-Kanu has impressed at times this season. He's tricky, has pace and is a strong lad to boot. His opportunities have been limited though, because Jobi McAnuff, the captain, has played on one wing, with Jimmy Kebe, who is probably Reading's most exciting player, deployed on the other flank. I think Robson-Kanu is an Arsenal fan, so that might give him more incentive to score if he plays.
Reading have let too many goals in all season. They have scored seven goals in two games against Arsenal this season, and have lost both. I think inexperience has cost them at the back. They haven't been creative enough in midfield and don't have enough strikers.
The previous two games between the sides have produced 19 goals - and it would have been more were it not for some great saves. I can't see it being quite as high-scoring this time though. Reading were beaten 1-0 at Manchester United last time out and the defence will be aiming to impress the new manager. I think they'll do well to keep a clean sheet though.
I think Arsenal will win 3-0.
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