Reading's 5-2 defeat to Arsenal came as little surprise to many. Even with Arsenal sitting in mid-table after a difficult first half of the season, Reading's defensive ineptitude was highlighted once again by a pacey, clever attacking side.
It's far from the first time they have been caught out in such a way this season. Whilst Arsenal's attack, even despite their recent troubles, is one of the most incisive in the Premier League on its day, it was made all too simple for them by a lacklustre Reading defence who consistently allowed unchecked runs into the box on crosses, a problem that was at the heart of four of Arsenal's five goals.
Their plight has been brought further into focus, having dropped to the foot of the table below QPR, a team who had failed to win a Premier League game until last Saturday.
A record of 36 goals conceded in their first 17 Premier League games makes grim reading for Reading boss Brian McDermott. Even Southampton, scorned earlier in the season for their defensive lapses, have conceded just 32 since their return to the top flight. The Saints have now conceded just four goals in their last six games. In comparison, Reading have conceded 17 in the same period.
Monday night's back four of Shaun Cummings, Kaspars Gorkss, Adrian Mariappa and Nicky Shorey have 216 Premier League appearances between them, but all but 50 of those come from veteran Shorey. Whilst injured young centre-back Sean Morrison shows promise, this is evidently a defence in need of more top-flight experience and, more importantly, Premier League quality players. Cummings had a torrid time against Lukas Podolski, whilst Gorkss and Mariappa failed to pick up runners in the box.
The apparent ineptness of Reading's midfielders must also be a focus. Jimmy Kebe offered Cummings no protection down the right, whilst Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb neglected their defensive responsibilities to allow Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere to tear into the Royals' back four. Though Leigertwood and Tabb often found themselves paired together in Reading's successful Championship campaign, these mistakes get far more easily punished against the top sides.
Goalscoring is not necessarily a problem - Reading have one of the better records in the bottom half of the table, while Adam Le Fondre's goal against Arsenal was his fifth in the league this season. Any investment options McDermott has must surely be targeted at shoring up their haphazard defending.
January is a notoriously difficult window, and McDermott has already admitted that Reading failed to invest in the summer when it was needed. Funds are unlikely to be flowing freely from owner Anton Zingarevich after only £5million was splashed in the summer, but investment in quality is absolutely vital.
McDermott has a responsibility to choose wisely in terms of his signings - otherwise the bookies' favourite to be the next Premier League manager to go could be out of the job. Watching Arsenal's movement alone on Monday night should give enough of a preview into what is needed, and that showing came from a so-called 'crisis club'. Reading need to strengthen in midfield and defence, or risk an immediate return to the Championship.
Ideally, Reading need to invest in at least one quality player who will track runs from midfield as well as new defenders to come in across their back four. Rumours on prospective targets have been few and far between but, without significant January investment, it could be argued that Reading might as well condemn themselves to relegation.
The hard work starts before the window even opens though - with four games against teams in the top eight left in December, Reading desperately need to pick up points, and that task falls at the feet of McDermott and his current squad of players.