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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Santi the Red decapitates Royals

Off to Reading after a football free weekend to watch an important game for both the Royals and their visitors from North London, with the home team having hit the bottom of the table and the Gunners reeling from their humiliating League Cup defeat at Bradford City.
Despite the fact that the two clubs have spent the majority of their history in different leagues the fixture has a rich history as detailed in the excellent match programme. It even has a place in popular culture as the scene of Nick Hornby's unmasking as fake Londoner when he attended the clubs' FA Cup tie at Elm Park in 1972. Currently though it is Brian McDermott who is the prime link between the two clubs, the programme featuring cuttings from the Arsenal programme when McDermott was still a Gunner. Although too kind to mention it, these cuttings came from the 1983-84 season when Arsenal last suffered a League Cup defeat to a team from the lower reaches of the Football League when Walsall won at Highbury. This bona fide shock led to the demise of manager Terry Neill and the lead up to last night's game was not shy of predicting a similar fate for both managers, though once again the programme was replete with statistics to argue against such a drastic option.
So plenty to ponder on the trip to that most loathsome of locations, the out of town football ground. With Reading station quickly reached, and plenty of help at hand to direct me to the waiting football special buses, a lengthy queue caused by the driver having to deal with cash was followed by a slow half an hour crawl through the rush hour traffic to Small Mead. Fortunately it was quite easy to locate my seat in the unofficial neutral section next to the Arsenal fans, which afforded me a magnificent view of a sold out ground which nevertheless seemed to have plenty of Emirates style paid for but empty seats.
Earlier in the season I had seen Reading do all but beat QPR at Loftus Road as the well organised Royals comfortably dealt with Rangers' attacks, yet this fortitude was mysteriously absent as the home team offered up an odd strategy of sitting back and allowing Mikel Arteta to bring the ball forward from deep in his own half. By the time a challenge arrived the mercurial Santi Cazorla had inevitably moved into a position which allowed him to cause havoc in the Reading defence all night. By the time Arsenal opened the scoring with a great finish by Lukas Podolski, the Spaniard was already giving the best live performance I had seen of his. With Kieran Gibbs also looking good on the left wing the stage seemed set for Theo Walcott to back up his claim that the central attacking role should be his, but he fluffed his lines on several occasions before scoring what proved to be the final goal of the game ten minutes from the end.
In between Arsenal seemed to have won the game before allowing Reading some late hope. Cazorla embodied the Gunners domination for the best part of the game by scoring a hat trick even show boating in the penalty area early in the second half. 
Just in case anyone had forgotten Arsenal's defensive malaise this season, they conceded two quick goals to halve the lead and hint at a repeat of the epic league cup tie here at the end of October. There was no danger of lightning striking twice though and the game ended comfortably enough for Arsenal no matter how frustrating it is that the clean sheet is fast becoming an anachronism in the Premier League.
Reading Buses were on top form to get me back to the station in time for the early train home after a match which was enjoyable in isolation and changed little long term. In a poor Premier League, Arsenal can go third if they win their Saturday lunchtime match at Wigan, but the background noise about Wenger's future will remain for the foreseeable future. In contrast Reading will travel to Eastlands at the weekend with little hope never mind expectation, but surely they must see the long term value in McDermott's management and back him to use what will almost certainly be a budget boosted by a parachute payment next season to build a stronger squad better able to sustain a Premier League place should promotion be won once more.

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