When you score in the first minute of a game it can sometimes destabilise a team, making them unsure whether to press on for further goals or to try and consolidate their advantage. There was never much chance of us sitting back after we took the lead, but the way we played out the rest of the game was little short of magnificent.
Is 4-5-1 our best formation? I'm gradually coming round to the possibility that it is. Arsenal are, essentially, a team of midfielders. Many, if not most, of our forwards and defenders started as midfielders before converting. We are, at least, a team of players who are supremely confident of passing and running with the ball. A 4-5-1 allows us to build on these strengths, and gives Henry even more freedom to roam at the front. Gilberto can play deeper, where he wants to be, and concentrate on breaking up and redistributing the play. Hleb, Rosicky and Fabregas can operate in, what was today, an awesome tandom of inventiveness, feedingThierry and playing quick pass and move football. I also noticed that, because it's becoming clearer that goals can come from our midfield, Thierry is dropping slightly deeper at times, allowing midfielders to run in front of him.
Reading just never seemed in it. They just couldn't contain a Fabregas who was undoubtedly buoyed by his new contract. More than ever, he seemed to pull the strings, as the team continues to mould itself around him as much, or even more, than Henry. Thierry took his first goal wonderfully, stroking the ball into the net rather than thrashing at it. Rosicky deserved a goal: his power, pace and passes have quickly turned him into a vital part of the team. He's as skilful as Pires, if not with the goals yet, but he's a true competitor, and I can't see us losing as many games this year with him in the midfield.
Alex Hleb also had a storming game. Many fans often vent their frustration about him because of his lack of shooting and his often understated role in proceedings. But he rose to these critics with aplomb today. His first goal stemmed from a majestic one-two with Rosicky, leading to a thundering, unstoppable finish. His second could, perhaps should, have followed. His unselfishness laid RvP's goal on a plate, and he, on at least one other opportunity, passed in the second half when he should have had the belief to shoot. A confident Hleb is one of the best midfielders in the premiership; a fact which has been criminally under recognised in his time at Arsenal hitherto.
I really believe that the triumvirate of Fabregas, Hleb and Rosicky will be the key to our title chances this season. If Gilberto is solid behind them, and Thierry dangerous in front, they have the ability to dissect opposing teams and drive us to the title. 442, with Adebayor up front with Henry, could be used as an alternative against teams, such as Moscow on Wednesday, who successfully nullify our 'plan A' of using these three as the fulcrum for the team.
Elsewhere, I though Hoyte did excellently at r-b. The Cygan/Song comparisons are not justifiable, especially now he's on his favoured right side. Jens pulled off a few good saves, and also, amusingly, shook his finger at Hunt ( who seems to be a complete wind-up merchant). Djourou and Toure were also more than solid. At one point, Kolo tackled a Reading player, and chased the ball to the corner flag, in a clearly futile endeavour, to try and retain possesion. It was great to see that level of commitment.
Only two slight reasons for pause. Firstly, Gallas was a little too casual at times. On more than occasion he was dispossesed due to a lack of concentration , which a better team may have punished. He's been utterly superb so far for us this year, so I hope these were blips.
Secondly, Van Persie. Scoring a goal dosen't always mean a good perfomance - especially when its handed to you due to the quick thinking of a colleague. Indeed, Hleb and RvP are almost antithetical players. Hleb creates chances, makes things happen, and is often, and very unfairly, not given credit for his critical role in the team. RvP is a very 'flash' player; almost a luxury. He shoots rather than passes, and scores fantastic goals. He gives us an extra dimension, when so many of our players sometimes do pass the ball around a little too much. Yet, his goals can overshadow some worrying aspects of his play. Early in the first half, when it was only 1-0, he had runners either side of him as we heavily outnumbered the Reading defence in a counter attack. Instead of laying the ball off to a better placed team-mate, he shot weakly, wasting the opportunity. A few minutes later, he passed when he should have taken a shot. Towards the end of the half, he hopelessly sliced the ball when it was threaded through to him. He did not play well today, and he needs to learn how to balance his shooting/passing ratio. That he seems to have a desire to do this, should mean he will become a better player.
So, overall, we played sublime, devastating football in what many of us thought would be a difficult game. In doing so, our little heralded challenge for the title continues to gain pace. A final question to ponder: would 4-5-1 work at Stamford Bridge? The answer to that could decide the league.