Rating the Arsenal Players Against Reading

Hans WetzelFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2012

Rating the Arsenal Players Against Reading

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    Arsenal returned to winning ways against Reading in the Premier League, notching five away goals in their 5-2 victory. The team looked untouchable for much of the match, but wound up conceding a pair of soft goals in the second half. 

    With Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott all netting against a woeful, bottom-of-the-league Reading, the North London side leapt to fifth place in the Premier League, only two points off of third spot. 

    The Gunners are ranked on a numerical scale, with passing accuracy, offensive production, defensive production, movement and aggression all figuring into the final ratings. All statistics are via WhoScored

Defense

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    GK Wojciech Szczesny (6/10)

    The Arsenal keeper could have, and probably would have had a shutout in this match had his defense not fallen asleep twice in the second half. He made the one save that he was expected to, and short of mangling a high cross after the interval, the Pole had very little to do.

    He had every right to verbally assault his teammates after his pair of concessions, and should feel confident about his performance going into the weekend game against Wigan. 

     

    LB Kieran Gibbs (8/10)

    What a performance from Kieran Gibbs. The England international played well defensively, blocking a shot in the 29th minute, and he did even better going forward. He harried the Reading right side all evening, crossing perfectly for Lukas Podolski's goal, and Santi Cazorla's second.

    He provided a consistent outlet for the Arsenal midfield in the middle and final third of the pitch, and dovetailed superbly with Podolski all night. Many of Arsenal's best games have coincided with Gibbs being in the starting lineup, and based on Monday night's performance, it was easy to see why. His only blemish was the giveaway that led to Reading's first goal.

     

    CB Thomas Vermaelen (6.0/10)

    The Belgian's spotty play continues.

    He did well to clear a certain goal in the 28th minute, and also made a terrific last-man tackle in the 90th. Offsetting this was a lack of communication with Mikel Arteta and dubious marking that led to Reading's second goal, which was inexcusable.

    If the Gunners had been up against someone other than a last place side playing their worst football of the season, Thomas Vermaelen may have been exposed to a greater degree. The match was a microcosm of the Belgian's season, with moments of excellence offset by instances of confusion.

    The Verminator remains frustratingly at-large. 

     

    CB Per Mertesacker (7.0/10) 

    Per Mertesacker continued his excellent run of form, maintaining excellent positioning throughout the match, and completing 90 percent of his passes. For all of the rightful criticism that the towering German international endured during his maiden campaign with the Gunners last season, he has probably been Arsenal's most consistent player since the beginning of the current season. 

     

    RB Bacary Sagna (7.5/10)

    Carl Jenkinson hardly deserved to lose his starting spot on the right side of defense, especially since his form earned the youngster his first England cap. Bacary Sagna's performance, however, demonstrated exactly why the position is his to lose.

    The hard-working French international completed 93 percent of his passes on the night, and 71 overall, chalking up three tackles along the way. He did not play in quite as advanced a position as Gibbs did on the opposite side, which perhaps led to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having a relatively quiet night when compared to his teammates.

    Nonetheless, the defensive side of Sagna's game was near-faultless, with the right-back at the top of his game despite two broken legs in the past year.  

Midfield

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    DM Mikel Arteta (6.5/10) 

    Mikel Arteta had a strong game, completing 102 passes, more than any of his teammates, en route to a 91 percent pass accuracy rating. It's worth noting that he grew into the game, as his early touches were a bit errant, and his movement seemed a little labored.

    Opposing teams have learned to close on the Spaniard quickly, for interrupting his rhythm seems to really hamper the midfielder's effectiveness. As the game opened up and Reading began to invite pressure, Arteta asserted himself well, accruing four tackles and four interceptions, while also keeping the ball moving.

    Alas, he should have done better for Reading's second goal, as he never made the tackle that someone like Alex Song or Wilshere would have made to cut the play out. He fills the defensive role relatively well, however, despite not being perfectly suited for it.

     

    CM Jack Wilshere (7.5/10)

    Two tackles, two interceptions, three key passes and a 91 percent pass rating. He was the recipient of several crunching tackles, and doled out a few of his own as he earned a yellow card for his efforts.

    The Englishman is nearly back to his best form, and at 20 years old, has nearly a decade ahead of him to further refine his game. Before Cazorla got on the scoresheet, Wilshere looked the more threatening of the two midfielders, and his direct running at opposing defenses is a welcome dimension to an already stout box-to-box midfield package.

    If he can add goals to his game, there is every chance that Wilshere can become a more complete player than former Gunner Cesc Fabregas. 

     

    CAM Santi Cazorla (9.5/10)

    The Spaniard was nearly unplayable after the first 30 minutes of the match. The diminutive attacker deftly directed a header into the Reading net for his opening goal, before pivoting to hoof a left-footed bouncing ball through a defender's legs for his second. His third was the culmination of a signature Arsenal passing move that saw Podolski place the ball on a proverbial platter for Cazorla to tap into an empty net.

    His assist for Walcott's goal was inch-perfect, and did well to sting the hands of keeper Adam Federici with a pile driver late in the match. It would be easy to minimize the contribution, and a maiden Arsenal hat-trick, as it came against the Premier League's bottom side in their worst performance of the season.

    While true, it has more to do with his teammates stepping up to provide the dervish with quality service and intelligent runs. The better his teammates play around him, the greater the offensive contribution Cazorla can, and will, have.   

Offense

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    LW Lukas Podolski (8.5/10) 

    After several middling performances, the enigmatic German winger has returned in style. He started and finished the move that led to his first goal, which he settled for and finished with aplomb. He then went on to place two perfect balls for the finishing pleasure of onrushing Santi Cazorla.

    Despite having an obvious finisher's touch in front of goal, his crossing ability has cemented his position on the left side of the attack. Podolski reminded Arsenal fans once again of his undeniable talent, bringing his season total to eight goals and six assists through 22 appearances.

    If he can manage that tally when playing erratically, one would imagine his production will increase as he continues to adapt to life in North London.

     

    ST Theo Walcott (7.5/10) 

    Finally given a starting berth through the middle, Walcott largely repaid the faith that Arsene Wenger placed in him. The winger-cum-striker managed seven shots in 85 minutes on the pitch, landing four on target. Perhaps more impressively, he finished the evening with an 89 percent pass accuracy rating, had eight crosses, and frequently made a nuisance of himself with his pace and intelligent running.

    While not the definitive answer through the middle—he should have done better with several of his opportunities in front of goal—he did enough to earn another start in his favored position. His goal was deliciously clinical, and demonstrates that the English international can, at times, be thoroughly dangerous in front of goal.

    His 11 goals leads the Arsenal scoring charts, and based on this performance, he might, just might, be worth the money that the contract rebel is holding out for. More of the same, please, Theo. 

     

    RW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6.5/10)

    A productive night for the youngster, though ultimately overshadowed by teammates that mostly all contrived to have big nights. He accrued three shots, with two on target, and finished his 74 minutes on the field with an 85 percent pass rating.

    He saw less of the ball than Lukas Podolski on the opposite side but was very lively in the opening passages of the game. As the game wore on, he seemed to slot into the Arsenal passing rhythm rather than running directly at the Reading defenders. A mature performance for the winger, and one infinitely better than teammate Gervinho could have produced.

    When the Ivorian returns from the African Cup of Nations early next year, he will almost assuredly find the England international blocking his path to the starting XI.  

Substitutes

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    RW Aaron Ramsey (N/A) 

    The midfielder came on for Chamberlain in the 74th minute and did not have much of an impact on the game. Full of energy, it's easy to see why Wenger tries the Welshman on the wing. Yet it's befuddling to see him played out of position when he perpetually produces middling displays there.

    With the Gunners 4-0 up, it would have been a perfect opportunity to play Ramsey in an advanced midfield role, replacing either Wilshere or Cazorla in the process. The game was well-won at that juncture, and neither of those players needed the extra minutes, nor Cazorla the goal to round out his hat-trick.

    Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Ramsey could yet become a regular starter for Arsene Wenger's side going forward, but only if he can gain the experience that he desperately needs in central midfield.

     

    CM Francis Coquelin (N/A)

    The Frenchman took over for a dominant Santi Cazorla in the 83rd minute, and he had little time to make an impact on the game. Enough of these cameo appearances over the course of this season could lead to Coquelin cementing his place as a viable backup to Mikel Arteta, and heir to Abou Diaby's injury-ridden spot in the Arsenal squad.    

     

    ST Olivier Giroud (N/A) 

    Giroud had a quiet five-minute appearance at the end of the match as he works back to full fitness. If Walcott winds up signing a new contract, and likely beginning to play through the middle, the two forwards could offer Arsenal and Arsene Wenger two welcome dimensions at center forward.

    After a previous run of five goals in as many games, it will be nice to see the forward regain his scoring touch in what has been a decent start to the season for the French international.