Last night was one of the most memorable nights of football many of us will ever witness, unfortunately for Reading fans it'll be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. Reading have now won just one game against Premier League opposition in 10 attempts while conceding 26 goals. With fractures appearing in the dressing room and fans just starting to lose a bit of confidence in the manager, are there any reasons to be optimistic and if not how can we get ourselves back on track.
Putting The Arsenal Game Into Perspective
Last night we picked up several unwanted records. Reading becmae the first team to score five in a cup game and lose, biggest lead squandered, most goals ever conceded at the Madejski, so yeah it was't fun.
However despite the galling nature of blowing a four-goal lead let’s try and retain a little perspective here.
Despite a 'weakened' lineup, Arsenal still fielded some £30 million worth of striking talent last night, the sort of expenditure very few in England can afford. Theo Walcott has scored international hat-tricks so putting one past a defence that's never played together before and included a 21-year-old home debutant is hardly a surprising outcome. Likewise Giroud, Chamakh and Arshavin, while hardly in prime goal scoring form have all proved on a domestic and European level that they can find the net.
That's not making excuses for what was some woeful defending at times, but those forward options have and will score plenty of goals past far better defences this year.
On the subject of changed teams, let’s not forget that this Reading team contained several players that have been nowhere near a first team start recently. Federici, Morrison, Gunter, McCleary and Robson-Kanu have all been out of the starting XI while Noel Hunt was still struggling with an injury that forced him off late in normal time. Would Cummings, McAnuff, McCarthy, Mariappa etc have made a difference? Well they couldn't have been any worse let’s put it that way.
Can I also point out that we scored four goals in 90 minutes against Arsenal. Do you know how many times Arsenal have conceded four goals in a game under Wenger? 22 in 916 games, or 2% of the time. That's no small feat for any side yet alone Reading.
Let’s also give some begrudging credit to Arsene Wenger who made good substitutions that helped change the game. As mentioned he's taken charge of nearly 1,000 games at Arsenal and his record speaks for itself so I think it's fair to say he's got a bit of an advantage on Brian McDermott who's not even past the 150 game mark.
Some of the above might sound like I'm making excuses for last night's debacle but I'm not, it was inexcusable and the manager and players know that. What can be said is that it's not quite the doom and gloom that perhaps myself and many other fans have taken it to mean.
Jem Karacan's injury is a big blow to the squad and with the midfielder set to miss another six weeks, he won't be in action again until our re-match with the Gunners on December 17th. Other than that and our injury status isn't too bad, aside from a niggle to Noel Hunt that's hampered him the past few weeks.
Jason Roberts and Jimmy Kebe should now be getting fully up to speed having played multiple 90 minutes so there's not really any excuses to be made on the injury front.
Jonny Fordham broke a story on Sunday night that suggested Guthrie and McDermott had fallen out and Guthrie's attitude had cost him a place in the squad for the Fulham game. Brian and Guthrie have both denied such a fall-out took place but the very fact he's been absent from the last two squads, coupled with an earlier bust-up on Twitter, suggests that there's certainly something gone wrong behind the scenes.
Before Jem's injury Brian McDermott could just about justify the midfielder's exclusion from the squad for tactical reasons but the long-term injury to the Turkish midfielder has reduced our senior options to Jay Tabb, Mikele Leigertwood and at a push either Jobi McAnuff or Brynjar Gunnarrsson. If Brian wants to argue that those four are all better than Guthrie fine, he's got far more knowledge than I do but I doubt I'd be in the minority in raising an eyebrow.
Whatever the reason for Guthrie's omission, we've now seen Reading's midfield two of Ledge and Tabby tire greatly after the hour mark, leading to two leads being squandered. Guthrie isn't Xavi, Scholes or Gerrard but he's a player that can get about the pitch and make a pass, something that's got to be better than Jay Tabb on his last legs.
Plenty of people have debated whether Guthrie fits into our 'style' on or off the pitch and again that's more Brian's territory than ours. However in this league you need every possible resource available to you and whether its disciplinary or tactical oversight, not having Guthrie in the squad seems a massive, massive mistake at this point in time.
Right now Reading need Guthrie more than Guthrie needs Reading and if he wants the best for this club, Brian at least needs to reach a compromise to get Guthrie back involved and in proper contention for a place until January when the club can part ways if it still isn't working.
While we're on the subject of man management, the next burning issue is that of reigning Player Of The Season Alex Pearce who hasn't played since being arguably Reading's man of the match in the 1-0 defeat at West Brom.
Pearce was omitted for the QPR game in favour of Adrian Mariappa and was somewhat understandably kept on the bench as we went three games unbeaten. However a defeat at Anfield and another leaky display against Fulham suggested that perhaps Pearce should come in at the expense of the ageing Kaspars Gorkss who'd been the only ever present in a defence that had conceded 21 in 10 games going into last night.
Much to our surprise the call was instead made to Sean Morrison who came in for Mariappa rather than Gorkss and the pair combined to ship seven last night.
I've been told by good solid sources that Pearce's omission has more to do with his contract situation than his form on the training ground or on the pitch this season. Pearce is apparently reluctant to sign with the currently offered terms and as a result Brian is giving chances to players that are contracted to the club beyond this season.
This had led to a strange scenario where we've got one of, if not our best, defender sat helplessly on the bench with the choice of either signing at terms he doesn't want, or waiting out six months to leave on a free.
On the one hand you can understand the club's position, after all they don't want another Sidwell scenario where a key cog just walks away for nothing at the expense of developing someone else like Morrison. However even if no agreement can be reached then again both the player and the club need to come to some sort of understanding where they can help each other out and at least get the club back towards stable footing and then see where they are come January.
Our Best XI
Does anybody know this right now?
I certainly don't and by his selections this year it's arguable that McDermott doesn't either. During that amazing run to the title last year you could just reel off the team before we played, but this year every position has had at least two, sometimes three starters and that is never a good sign, especially given how infrequently we've been playing.
Brian needs to come to some sort of conclusion over the next few days, pick a side against QPR and stick to it. I don't care if that's all of his summer signings or none of them but it's time to nail the colours to the mast and pick what he feels is his best possible team from those at the football club. Even if it gets beat on Sunday, stick with it and try and get some momentum.
The January Transfer Window
This could be the most important transfer window in the club's history as our survival prospects could well hinge on who we can bring into this squad before deadline day. As I've mentioned before, plenty of teams have made those key one or two signings that has made the difference between success and failure. In 2009 Stoke went and got James Beattie and Matthew Etherington and their contributions were vital in them surviving. A year earlier and Bolton ground their way up partly due to the capture of Gary Cahill and Matthew Taylor. Going back a little further and Harry Redknapp brought in key signings like Pedro Mendes that helped Pompey survive the drop.
In a pre-season fans forum Brian said that lessons had been learned from our last relegation and if that's the case it's vital he responds to any slight doubts over squad quality by making a move. Anton Zingarevich promised sensible controlled investment and the outlay of a few million pounds this year could well be the difference in tens of millions next season. Nobody is advocating spending money for money's sake but a lack of action could be survival suicide.
Back Him Or Sack Him?
Look Brian's not perfect but as Aidy so brilliantly pointed out last week, we can't expect perfection from a man who's been in charge of less than a dozen Premier League games and in league management for less than three years.
McDermott has overseen plenty of worse performances than this in his time at the club and has always found a way to get the winning formula. People talk about this being an embarrassment, try telling the hearty souls who travelled down to Plymouth to see McDermott's side annihilated 4-1 by a team destined to be relegated, or those who sat and watched Reading fail to register a meaningful shot against Watford at home just over 12 months ago. Those were games where we looked clueless, toothless and embarrassing. Yes last night we made plenty of mistakes but nowhere near the abject nature of such past displays. Yes it hurts more because it'll be all over the news in the next few days and in any compilation video made in the next 20. Yes we'll take some stick from football fans everywhere but what does a cup defeat to Arsenal really mean? Bugger all.
What's important is that Brian is learning lessons that will keep us in the Premier League. It doesn't matter what you do in life, you need setbacks to inspire you to better things and to help you improve. The Premier League has kicked down plenty of managers in the past but many have risen up from disappointment to do great things. People have long lauded David Moyes but Moyes oversaw a fall from 7th to 17th within his first two seasons. Harry Redknapp who some have suggested should come in, has also taken a team out of this league while few Manchester United fans will say they were a big fan of Fergie in his first few trophy less seasons. Alan Curbishley led Charlton through many yo-yo years before establishing them in the top flight and when Charlton fans called for a glitzy manager look what happened...
If you thought Brian managed the side well in the previous two-and-a-half years then there's no reason to think that five defeats in 11 competitive games has suddenly turned him into a bad manager. Yes I'm as pissed off as anyone with some of his decisions this year but I'm confident he's going to learn from them and come out stronger. So before anyone hops on the sack Brian bandwagon, just stop and think what's come before last night or even this season.
We've not reached panic stations yet, far, far from it. With four results in eight tricky Premier League games, we've shown we can at least compete with just about any side in this league. Yes not winning has been frustrating but we've come very close and we're getting closer. We're entering a run of key, winnable games and the team needs plenty of support right now. It's true that some players need to be replaced, mistakes have been made and people deserve to be criticised but by Sunday let's try forget last night and the stuttering start to the season, move on back the boys to a win at QPR.