The panel sort through 120 minutes of jaw-dropping football to find the good, bad and ugly. There's a lot.
When I woke up this morning, I didn't quite believe what I witnessed last night. I still can't quite believe it. Marouane Chamakh scored twice! TWICE! I had to pinch myself, check the various websites and highlights to realise that yesterday did actually happen. I don't think I've ever seen a 7-5, ever. Not in FIFA, not in Football Manager, hell, not in New Soccer Start, where I routinely win games by scores like 5-3, and stuff like that. But while yesterday was awesome, there was also a whole lot of suck in those first 40 minutes, which means we have more than enough material to do "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly".
- Theo Walcott. Theo, Theo Walcott, he's an Englishman at Arsenal. He was really, really good yesterday. His bad pass, admittedly, led to the first Reading goal, and he could've covered Jenkinson a bit better, but he had 3 assists and a hattrick, and he was sharp, running at pace against a totally bewildered Reading defence. And yes, it was Reading and they're not very good, but he was still fantastic; his decision making was spot on, his crosses were excellent, and his finishing was ruthless. It was everything you've ever wanted from Theo Walcott; now all he has to do is sign da ting.
- Andrei Arshavin: Yeah, ok, he gave the ball away a lot, but he does that because he's always trying to create something. Some of his throughballs didn't come off, he looked gassed at 4-2, but even then, he still created two goals in extra time; a nice little pass for Marouane Chamakh, and then a gut-bursting run all the way down the pitch in the 120th minute. Oh, and he made a great pass for Theo's first goal. It seems to me that Arshavin invariably gets an assist whenever he plays, even when he plays really badly (see QPR at home, Swansea away last season), which is why Arsene Wenger loves him so. And his post-match interviews are great.
- Olivier Giroud absolutely dominated the Reading defence once he came on. A bullet header for Arsenal's second goal, some impressive passes and shots, and he created space for Marouane Chamakh, which, for once, actually achieved something. I know.
- Thomas Eisfeld made his debut, coming on in the 62nd minute with Giroud. He's an interesting prospect, who's hero growing up was Tomas Rosicky and was once rated higher than Mario Götze before injuries halted his development. He's been impressive for the U-21s, though, and was excellent yesterday. His passing was sharp, and quick, and his movement was impressive as well. What's even more impressive is that Eisfeld usually makes waves for scoring for the U-21s; yesterday, he didn't even have a chance at goal, but was still impressive. Calls for him to start on Saturday are premature and very foolish, but he's not terribly far away.
- Spirit, fortitude, grission. There's a lot that went wrong in the first 40 minutes, but Arsenal showed a lot to come back and win, 7-5, at Reading, in 120 minutes. They were helped, I think, by an awesome away support, who are quite arguably, the best in the league. Seriously, they were awesome. '
- The defending. Oh, the defending. Arsenal were continually vulnerable to crosses, and the wide-areas seemed extremely exposed. Johan Djourou looked like a man who had 1 appearance this season. Ignasi Miquel looked like a slow centre back playing left back. Emmanuel Frimpong's midfield cover was atrocious; Arsenal were a lot better once he came off and Francis Coquelin sat back.
- Emi Martinez has been spoken of in some quarters as possibly being a replacement for Vito Mannone. On this evidence, he's far from ready for the first team. His attempt to stop Leighterwood's strike was rubbish, and he flapped a lot on crosses, which is a little understandable, though very worrying. He is only 20 though (Yet, Szczesny, of course, was in the team at age 20 and looked a lot better).
- Maroaune Chamakh in the first half. His passing was awful, his effort was pretty bad too, and his movement was fairly lacking. He turned it around after the first half, though, so credit for that.
- Carl Jenkinson in the first half. His positioning was awful, he got beaten by the 5'8 Noel Hunt in the air for Reading's fourth goal, and he looked nothing like the man who got rave reviews for the start of the season.
- Laurent Koscielny. His goal may have been the only thing he did well; he was responsible for two of Reading's goals, he played Pogrebnyak onside for Reading's 5th, and he looked a long way away from the defender he was last year, where he was possibly the 2nd best centre back in the Premier League, after Vincent Kompany. He was lucky not to get sent off, and he was bullied all evening by Jason Roberts. If Koscielny is to get back into Arsenal's starting XI, he's going to have to pull it together, because he's been extremely poor this season; worse than he was at the beginning of 2010/11.
- Arsenal's first 40 minutes. None of the players, aside from Gnabry and Walcott, looked particularly bothered, they couldn't pass the ball to each other, they let Reading have all the time in the world to cross the ball, and they went 4-0 down. They looked vulnerable every time Reading attacked. It was the worst defensive performance since the 8-2; in fact, in many ways, it was worse, considering who the opposition were. Arsenal turned it around, of course, and in fantastic style, but those first 40 minutes were awful, and worrying. The last 80, though, is why we love football.