READING

v

ARSENAL

Madejski Stadium, Reading

20:00 hrs GMT, 17th December, 2012

***

It won’t be preposterous to say that both Reading and Arsenal are teams in crisis; Reading are fighting relegation, while Arsenal are fighting mediocrity. The last time Arsenal won two Premier League matches in a row was back in September when they gave a wonderful performance in Anfield and followed that up with demolition of Southampton at home. Reading, on other hand, have lost their last five matches in the league. So this Monday, as Reading welcomes the Gunners to the Madejski stadium, one of these runs is about to end.

Arsenal suffered from a shock exit in the League Cup at the hands of Bradford City on Wednesday night. It was perhaps one of the most embarrassing loss Arsene Wenger has suffered in his long and illustrious career. On field struggle has once again brought to public the power struggle within the board that is in progress at the Emirates at the moment between Kroenke and Usmanov.

Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has apologized to the fans for Arsenal’s League Cup exit but at this point of the season, more than just an apology is required to turn their season around. The Gunners currently lie in eight place in the table, but a win here and requisite results elsewhere could see them jump to fourth place in the league above Everton. It could go a long way into restoring some confidence back into the squad.

Reading are currently six points behind Southampton, who are in 17th spot. QPR’s victory against Fulham last night has dropped Reading to the bottom of the table and Brian McDermott needs to stop the recent run of losses if they are to harbour any hope surviving the relegation battle. The Royals are currently favourites among the bookies to drop down to the Championship next season and the January transfer could well decide their future in the league. According to reports, tension is running high in the Reading dressing room currently. Danny Guthrie refused to travel to Sunderland last weekend which certainly didn’t help McDermott’s cause as he saw his team capitulate once again to a 3-0 loss. Although Guthrie has apologized to his team mates and the fans for his behaviour, it would be interesting to note the effect this could have on the morale of the team.

Team News

Reading

Brian McDermott has quite a lot of fitness concerns to deal with as he heads into this match. Jem Karacan, who damaged his knee ligament, and Jimmy Kebe, who suffered from a groin injury, have returned to training but are not available for selection in this match. Both these players will be available in Reading’s next match when they take on Manchester City.

Morrison and McCarthy remain Reading’s long term injury concerns. But the good news for Brian McDermott is the return of Robson-Kanu, who is expected to start in this match. Striker Jason Roberts and Pavel Pogrebnyak remain doubtful for this clash. Roberts has recovered from his hip-injury but is unlikely to start in this match, although both these strikers are expected to make late appearances.

The only change that is expected in the starting line-up that lost to Sunderland in their last match is that of Robson-Kanu replacing Garath McCleary on the right wing.

Tactically Brian McDermott hasn’t experimented too much this season. He has stuck to his favoured 4-4-2 formation and has depended on his wingers to deliver the goods. Sean Morrison’s injury has come as big blow for him and Alex Pearce, Morrison’s replacement in defence, hasn’t been in the best of his form.

Jamaican winger Jobi McAnuff has been Reading’s one of the most impressive player this season and they will be once again depend on him to deliver the goods in this match. McAnuff will be up against Bacary Sagna, one of the best right backs in the league, and he along with Nicky Shorey would look to double up on the Frenchman. Robson-Kanu’s inclusion will also add a lot more flair to Reading’s attack. Mikele Leigertwood will be the home side’s main man at the center of the park as he would look to contain Cazorla and Wilshere. The 30-year-old has been an ever present in McDermott’s line-up.

The manager is likely to set up his team based on counter attacking philosophy. Reading will sit deep and absorb the pressure, while on the break they would look to exploit the wings.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2)Federici (GK); Cummings, Mariappa, Pearce, Shorey; McAnuff, Leigertwood, Tabb, Robson-Kanu; Le Fondre, Hunt.

Arsenal

Olivier Giroud is expected to be fit and available for this match and will replace Gervinho in the starting line-up. Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny will undergo late fitness test and are unlikely to take part in this match. Wenger will not want to take any risk with Walcott’s fitness at such an important juncture of the season. Brazilan left back Andre Santos, Abou Diaby and Fabianski remains unavailable and aren’t expected to take part in any first team actions this year.

Giroud’s return will help Arsenal regain some of the finishing prowess which it seem to have lost when Gervinho started upfront in the last match against Bradford City. The Ivorian’s finishing was awful and despite producing a lot of chances, Arsenal failed to convert them.

Two more changes are expected from the line-up in the League Cup match last week. Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin will make way for Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This means Wilshere, who played in a much more advanced role against Bradford, will drop deep once again alongside Arteta, while Santi Cazorla, who played in a wider role, will move to the center, behind Giroud.

Arsenal’s shaky defence, which has come under a lot of criticism (specially Thomas Vermaelen), will be under the scanner once again. The Zonal marking employed this season seemed to be acting as a huge handicap while defending against set pieces and Reading are quite good in those dead ball situations.

Arsenal’s passing and build-up play has been too slow at times, which has allowed the opponent to maintain their shape in defense. Wenger’s men should be looking to up the tempo a notch or two while they are in the final third. Cazorla and Wilshere will once again have to shoulder the main responsibility of the providing the spark from the midfield.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1)Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Podolski, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud

Key Facts

  1. Arsenal have won all the 10 meetings between these two clubs till now.
  2. Reading have won just one of their last 10 Premier League games at the Madejski Stadium (W1 D5 L4).
  3. Arsenal have won none of their last six away games in all competitions (W0 D4 L2).
  4. Reading have thrown away more points from winning positions than any other Premier League sides this term (17).
  5. Arsenal have conceded the lowest number of second-half goals in the top-flight this season (six) while Reading have shipped the joint-most (20).

Match facts courtesy Eurosport.

Player(s) To Watch Out For

Jobi McAnuff (Reading)

The 31-year-old winger has been in fine form and has been one of the few bright sparks for Reading this season. Although he is on the wrong side of 30, he has still retained his pace (something Jamaicans are naturally born with) and his passing/crossing has been instrumental in a lot of the goals of his side. McAnuff has the joint highest assists (4)  for his team (along with Shorey) and has made the most number of ‘key passes’ (43) this season so far. He will certainly be Reading’s biggest threat going forward.

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

arsenalJack Wilshere, after a long injury lay-off is slowly returning to his old self with every passing match. He was Arsenal’s best player in the defeat to Bradford and looked the most likely one to make something happen. Every performances he gives epitomizes the drive and passion he has for this club.

If Arsenal are to resurrect their failing season, Wilshere will have to play a big role in it.

Prediction

Reading 1 – 2 Arsenal

It will a game of extremes; extremely boring or extremely entertaining. The last time this two sides met, they produced one of the most memorable matches in League Cup history. While looking at the predicament both these clubs are in at the moment, one can expect them to be very circumspect in this match; one might not want to make the mistake which pulls them further into trouble, in which case it will be a dull affair.

On the other hand if both this teams come out on the pitch which devil-may-care attitude, and think they have nothing to lose (how much worse can it get), we will have a  match similar to what we experienced few weeks back. Having said that, Arsenal are still the favorites to win this tie, at least on paper they are, but one should not really expect them to win by a big margin.

Blast From The Past