Arsenal 4 Reading 1 match report: Gervinho picks fine time to breathe life into Arsenal career
Wenger's men react positively to his conversion from philosopher to
enforcer but Reading are so feeble the real test of commitment lies
Sunday 31 March 2013
The banner was hung from the top tier of the Emirates Stadium as dark, portentous clouds gathered overhead. It allowed David Rocastle to speak from beyond the grave, about what playing for Arsenal meant in a less frenzied, more compelling era.
His immortal instruction to a group of young players was written in yellow, on a blue background. It read: "Remember who you are, what you are, and what you represent." Little wonder even corporate seats were vacated when the 12th anniversary of his death was commemorated in the seventh minute of a straightforward victory.
There is something uniquely poignant about the premature loss of a favourite player. Rocastle was just 33 when he passed away on 31 March 2001, a month after being diagnosed with non- Hodgkin's lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer which attacks the immune system.
He was a child of different times, a footballer who understood the significance of his club's heritage. He was loved as much for who he was as how he performed in midfield. Whether many of the current squad given notice by Arsène Wenger would understand the concept of reciprocal loyalty is open to question. They can afford failure because it is so lucrative.
There was no chance of failure yesterday, when the paucity of Nigel Adkins's inheritance was laid bare. The conclusive nature of Reading's seventh successive defeat relegated them to the bottom of the Premier League table, a position they seem unlikely to vacate.
Arsenal have been charged with emulating last season's late charge, when they won nine out of 10 Premier League games from 4 February to 11 April to snatch third place from Spurs, whose win at Swansea suggests they are in no mood to repeat past mistakes. Chelsea's capacity for self-immolation appears to offer them the best chance of a 16th successive season in the Champions' League.
It didn't take long for Adkins to revert to type; he was assiduous, respectful and cloyingly cautious. Resplendent in his quilted jacket, sponsored by Middle England's favourite supermarket, he looked as if he had come straight from selling sun-dried tomatoes.
The Premier League sponsors were readily acknowledged, and he peppered his verdict with the usual buzzwords of unity, belief and focus. Reading were so poor he will soon be perfecting his patter in the Football League.
Wenger, by contrast, luxuriated in the success of his conversion from philosopher to enforcer. He had implied, somewhat belatedly, that indolence, indiscipline and incompetence were sackable offences. This may not entirely be news to the human resources industry, but it had the impact of a neutron bomb in the home dressing-room.
Andrey Arshavin, Sébastien Squillaci, Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner have no chance of surviving the cull. They're expensive, once-cherished belongings, consigned to the tombola stall at the local charity bazaar. Those on the bubble, such as Gervinho, Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski, had mixed fortunes.
Only a sumptuous performance by Santi Cazorla denied Gervinho that rarest of accolades, man-of-the- match champagne. The Ivory Coast striker gave Arsenal a 12th-minute lead with his seventh goal of the season, a side-footed shot into an unprotected net from close range, and set up further goals for Cazorla and Olivier Giroud.
"Gervinho was not playing for his future," Wenger insisted. "He did lose confidence from playing in a very negative atmosphere, but his performance today was very, very strong. He was always dangerous, and always looked likely to score."
The belated sense of urgency transmitted by Wenger was reflected by the all-round excellence of Aaron Ramsey and to a lesser extent, Nacho Monreal, who was hurt attempting to stop Hal Robson-Kanu converting Reading's consolation goal with a diving header.
Each lived up to their pre-match promise to approach every game with the diligence which defined that restorative, but fruitless, win against Bayern Munich.
If you believe such commitment should be the default setting for any Premier League multimillionaire, you haven't been paying attention. Sagna, and more pertinently his agent, knows he remains a valuable commodity despite the suspicion that his best years are behind him.
Podolski was introduced at the same time as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had greater impact in the quarter of an hour they were afforded. He had a hard act to follow in Gervinho, who brings the barely supressed panic of a Keystone Kops car chase to the Premier League, but immediately won a penalty, converted by Mikel Arteta.
That was a marginal call, and made up for two barely conceivable refusals by Chris Foy to award first-half penalties. The Emirates crowd are a touchy lot, but they were happy for rich, easy pickings. As the minutes ebbed away they picked up the theme of the day and paid homage once again to David Rocastle.
He would have enjoyed the compliment, and relished the release of victory.
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