MATCH REPORT: 2006/2007 Season

Reading: Fabregas (87 mins, own goal).
Arsenal: Silva (51 mins, pen), Baptista (62 mins).
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 60,132

Pos Team P Pts GD
6 Everton 29 43 +11
7 READING 29 43 +5
8 Portsmouth 29 41 +5
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Ingimarsson, Bikey, Shorey, Little (Doyle 80), Sidwell, Harper (Gunnarsson 71), Hunt (Oster 65), Kitson, Lita. Subs Not Used: Federici, Duberry.
Arsenal: Lehmann, Djourou, Gallas, Silva, Clichy, Ljungberg (Diaby 70), Fabregas, Denilson, Hleb (Senderos 86), Walcott (Aliadiere 71), Julio Baptista. Subs Not Used: Almunia, Traore.
Reading: Kitson.
Arsenal: Senderos.
Ref: C Foy (Merseyside).
Arsenal remained unbeaten at the Emirates Stadium with a narrow 2-1 victory over the Royals. However, in all honesty, there was never any likelihood of Reading becoming the first team to win at Arsenal's new ground. Arsenal dominated most of the fixture and looked comfortable throughout - with the exception of the final five minutes when Reading nearly managed to scramble an unlikely late draw. Arsenal have been the best side we have played this season by a long way - their 0-4 victory at Reading oozed class. This performance, while not being a patch on that day, was still a notch above Reading's despite all of our efforts. Arsenal played the ball around comfortably and gave Reading no room to move around themselves. Defensively we were overall very good, but chances were restricted up front and there was no chance it was the home side that won the midfield battle as Reading struggled to hold possession.

You can see why Arsenal have never lost at home. It would be rude to take all the points away after Arsenal have offered such hospitality. Without any doubt at all that was the most comfortable seat I've ever had in football. Padded seats. And loads of leg room. After getting to the ground, which is magnificent from all angles, the catering staff were all lined up waiting to serve. Not even a hint of a queue. Perhaps this might explain the total lack of atmosphere. It's just way too pleasant at this ground - how could you possibly get angry? As a result the families of Arsenal fans just sit down and quietly enjoy their side strolling to guaranteed home points. The travelling Reading fans were noisy to start but were soon silenced as Arsenal immediately started with pressure on the Reading goal.

After letting in three in six minutes against Manchester United and after going down 0-4 in the reverse fixture earlier this season, the opening ten minutes were nervous for Reading. Thankfully Marcus Hahnemann was in excellent form. Arsenal immediately created clear cut chances - putting the ball wide and then finding Hahnemann doing well to race off his line several times to clear the danger. Reading had to concentrate but defended well. Arsenal won a series of corners but continually found only James Harper at the near post who headed convincingly clear. They missed a golden chance from a few yards out but somehow failed to connect with the ball. Otherwise, Bikey and Ingimarsson were solid throughout. Going forward we offered very little with little supply to the forward men. We managed a single shot on target during the entire opening forty five minutes with Sidwell shooting directly at the goalkeeper. Lita tried to cause problems and worked hard for little reward.

However, at half time it was a case of job done with the score at 0-0. Perhaps we could continue to hold Arsenal and grab a break ourselves. But there was no chance of that as Arsenal stepped up their game after the break. With their flowing football they continued to create chances and really should have gone ahead with an excellent long range effort that looked to be heading into the top corner until Hahnemann suddenly appeared to put the ball round the post. A few minutes later and Arsenal took the lead from the penalty spot. From our end it looked a bit dubious, but I haven't had the benefit of a TV replay. Arsenal had already given themselves a bit of a reputation by going down under minimal contact when a player went sprawling in the area in close proximity to Bikey. The penalty was hit low and into the corner. Reading continued to play in their usual style and it was immediately after a Reading attack, just over ten minutes later, that Arsenal doubled their lead when Murty was beaten in the area.

The second half had developed into a better half and after Hahnemann managed another excellent block by racing out to confront a forward, Reading were still hanging onto the game. Stephen Hunt tried to spice things up by failing on the floor after Arsenal goalkeeperr Lehmann gave him the slightest of elbows. It was a minor incident with the officials right to take no action. However, it set up Lehmann nicely for some abuse from the away fans. Lehmann is obviously completely insane, spending all afternoon shouting at the rest of his side. It nearly developed a couple of times with his own players clearly wanting to take it further. It must be carnage in the dressing room after every game. It was a pure delight to have Lehmann hand Reading a late lifeline after he failed to hold the ball from a Reading corner. Oster, who had replaced Hunt fired in an excellent corner, which Fabregas turned into his own net under pressure from Lita at the near post.

It set up a dramatic finish as Reading enjoyed their best spell of the game as they so nearly secured a last gasp point. With Doyle, Kitson and Lita on the pitch we were well placed for a final attacking flurry. With time running out all the action was in front of the Arsenal goal as Reading stuck to playing their own brand of passing football. Kitson probably should have done better after getting the ball in front of goal but failed to shoot. Leroy Lita hit a shot straight at Lehmann, before the best chance fell to Sidwell on the right. We felt he was certain to score and Reading fans were on their feet expecting to celebrate when the Arsenal goalkeeper appeared to push the ball around the post and secure the three points for Arsenal.

For the second time this week Reading almost snatched a draw in the dying minutes of a game against one the best sides in Europe. On this occasion however it would have not have been deserved. Arsenal dominated the first half, but with a depleted strike force against a typically resolute and well organised Reading defence they were unable to convert possession into goals. The home side passed the ball with typical ease and when Reading did manage to snatch the ball they were either quickly dispossessed or squandered possession with careless passing. Poor finishing and a couple of saves from Hahnemann kept the scores level. It was mainly one way traffic in a fairly dull first forty five minutes.

Arsenal were much more direct after the interval and attacked greater pace and purpose. Reading were stretched but were coping until Bikey, who is developing into a better defender with every game, managed to get on the wrong side of Clichy and brought him down in the box with a clumsy lunge. Silva tucked away the penalty. The next goal was soon to follow. Reading were having to work hard to contain their opponents even when they were all back and set up in a strong defensive formation, so when they attacked and lost possession and Arsenal were able to hit them on the break, another goal looked inevitable. When it came it was a rare mistake by Murty that allowed Baptista in to poke the ball past Hahnemann. Ivar was clearly disappointed with the quality of his defending.

Some teams might have crumbled at that point but not the Royals. Showing typical resilience they began to play their best football of the game. With Oster, Gunnarsson and Doyle on for Little, Harper and Hunt Reading looked fresher and sharper. Sidwell headed over from a corner when he might well have scored and then he drove a shot narrowly wide of the post. Lita and Shorey were beginning to exploit the wide open spaces of the enormous Emirates pitch. Lita, drifting out wide on the left, had a good chance to pull goal back but hit his shot straight at Lehman. With three minutes left Fabregas deflected into his own net to set up an anxious last couple of minutes for the Gunners. The chance to steal a point fell to Sidwell but his low drive was well saved by Lehman.

Apart from Liverpool at home Reading will not have to face opposition of this calibre for the rest of the season. With no fear of relegation Coppell can afford to very positive in his approach and have a real go at qualifying for Europe. Go on Steve - admit it - we do have at least an outside chance!

Not one of our best days in this amazing season, however though we were outplayed by Arsenal for most of the game quite comprehensively, we nearly snatched a point, when Lehmann pulled of an amazing save from Sidwells volley near the end. It would have been a great escape to rival Colditz. It was disappointing the way we played though that's only due to the level of expectation we created this season. Our normally reliable wingers Hunty and Little both had very poor games and Little in particular must have been disappointed not to be able to produce the form he's shown in recent games in the magnificent Emirates stadium. I thought the atmosphere was rather sterile and for the first time in my life in football ground I felt the prawn sandwich brigade had a definate effect on the atmosphere, so many of them, if that's the future the game it does not have a good outlook. Fair play to Marcus in goal, he had a good game and credit where it's due, the rest of the lads including are ever reliable midfield duo of Sidders and Harper never got going. Time for Greg Halford to be blooded I think. Still a respectable score if there's such a thing when losing and lessons learnt I'm sure on how to play football and what millions and millions can buy you.
Nick Newbury

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