Reading dismantled the young Gunners on Tuesday night to secure their place at the top of Group O of the Pizza/EFL/Car Dealership Trophy, with a record-breaking 19 goals scored across three games.
Arsenal under-21s currently sit only three places and one point head of Reading’s under-21 team, so prior to the game it would be expected that the Royals would carry out a routine win considering they can mix senior players in too. However, Arsenal fielded a very strong team as well, with the multi-million-pound Premier League proven duo of Fabio Vieira and Reiss Nelson introduced into already one of the best academy teams in the country.
It was an almost comprehensive performance, but not without its flaws, so let’s analyse this stepping-stone of a game on our route to Wembley.
Distribution and build-up
It was refreshing to see a fairly new face in between the sticks in the form of Joel Pereira on Tuesday, looking to build upon a solid but unremarkable debut vs MK Dons. In the first half he looked a bit shaky, hesitating and bringing down Khayon Edwards for the first penalty, and his kicks were sometimes misplaced in the first period, but the rest of the team definitely didn’t help.
Here, Viera presses Pereira, and the way we play in the 4-2-2-2 means the fullbacks remain very high, therefore when the centre-backs are under pressure, short passing options are restricted.
In previous games, we’ve seen usually Sam Hutchinson or Lewis Wing dropping into the defensive third to receive the ball in a quarterback position beside the starting centre-backs, which I didn’t see happen as much on Tuesday, but I think it would be a great role for Amadou Mbengue to fall into, forming almost a 3-3-2-2 in possession.
This means that, in this situation, Pereira kicks long but can only reach an Arsenal player in a lot of space.
Fortunately, a series of poor touches and some good tracking back from Paul Mukairu into the midfield lets the Gunners down.
Another thing I found about our Portuguese shot-stopper is that, many times when clearing the ball, he opted to do so along the ground. That’s certainly a bold tactic and comes with the potential of easier ball retention, but it’s also easier for opponents to launch counters based off it if they win the ball.
Overall, I found Pereira’s distribution better than David Button’s as he managed to keep the ball in the field of play, although he still left some to be desired.
In terms of build-up, it seemed that Jay Wareham would be the one to play as the hold-up man as Sam Smith has done previously. It was against a youth team - therefore weaker players - but still the 20-year-old forward did a great job in that role, despite not yielding any goals for the first team as of yet.
Here he combines with Caylan Vickers brilliantly down the right. As he drops in, he pulls Arsenal centre-back Zane Monlouis out of position, providing the space for the third-man run from Nesta Guinness-Walker.
It was a rogue choice putting the ex-AFC Wimbledon man on his weaker side as a right-back, especially considering he is hardly known for his defensive capabilities, so when placed against Reiss Nelson I think he did well, all things considered.
The rest of the defence was decent, aside from Harlee Dean in my opinion, who gave away a penalty, had a fair few misplaced passes and generally just looked slow and regressive when on the ball.
To me, it looked like Ruben Selles adopted a different shape when trying to win the ball back on Tuesday. This would involve one midfielder pushing up to occupy a 10 position, while the opposite-side winger and striker came inside, leading to a lopsided 4-2-3-1.
In the screenshot shown here this is especially evident, and it’s effective in closing down the man in possession while players such as Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan and Michael Craig can cut off passing options too.
The midfield pivot of Mbengue and Craig both played this more advanced role in pressing in this game. However, I think they would be better paired with one of Wing or Charlie Savage to add more attacking intent and creativity into the midfield equation.
Against Shrewsbury Town we conceded two goals from balls into the box, so going into this game I was glad to see some improvement in that department. It was against an under-21 team, so in terms of physicality I would have expected us to dominate, although it wasn’t as even as I anticipated as the Royals won just 51% of their aerial duels, but it was the defensive organisation that I was more impressed by.
On this corner, you can see a clear structure of four men protecting the six-yard box, with others marking Arsenal players at the back post, tracking the runners. We also had a dedicated sweeper in Vickers here to pick up any dropped balls and prevent shots form getting off from far out.
If we’d had this organisation and leadership in the closing moments in Shropshire last Saturday, it’s hard to see how as much chaos and degeneration could have ensued in those vital closing moments.
It’s good to go into the international break on a high, although in front of a crowd of just over 3,000, this will not prove as much respite for the majority of Reading fans, and I doubt it’ll raise opinions of Selles either. A number of new tactics and shapes have been in use recently, so time on the training pitch will be crucial in consolidating those into the team.
It’s Wycombe Wanderers away next, with the important word there being away, so naturally we will be winning 2-0 until the 89th minute until a Lyle Taylor hat-trick completes the comeback.
It is a game where we should be capable of getting a result as the Chairboys are only 12th in League One so far. However, this Reading team have looked as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs in league away games, therefore a result seems unlikely.
Let’s get a win Ruben this time please.
Enjoy the international break!