LIVE from The Emirates Stadium, North London
@15:00 Hrs GMT on Saturday, 30th March
After a round of absolutely pointless qualifiers, players have returned back home where they are paid actual money to play football. While not many players from the visiting party was involved in midweek, a plethora of Arsenal players toiled hard and might be a bit jaded before this big game.
Arsenal and Reading, both, have different ambitions this season, and this game like the eight after this are pivotal for them to accomplish that ambition. The Gunners sit at 5th place in the league, just behind London Rivals’ Spurs and Chelsea while Reading are quite hapless at his moment, lying at 19th place, still needing at least 17 points (theoretically) from their remaining games to avoid relegation. Reading have conceded more Premier League goals against Arsenal (16) than versus any other opponent in the competition. While no particular stat favors Reading in this away from home encounter, there is no doubt that a little bit of complacency can hurt the Gunners real bad. Arsenal Medical Room Leader Abou Diaby makes the point about the importance of the game –
“It is very difficult [against teams near the bottom of the table]. They are fighting against relegation, and we are fighting to be in the top four. We may be favorites, but we know it’s not going to be an easy game. But if we can play our game, we know we can score goals.”
The Gunners have played some incredible games this season against Reading. One of them included 12 goals, a come-from-behind from a 0-4 scoreline; easily one of the most remarkable games Arsenal Football Club would ever play. This one is different. This one is massive for both teams as they have very little to falter. Arsenal can’t afford to drop any points at home, with nine games to go and still to play Manchester United and Everton at some point in the rest of the season.
With Theo Walcott out with an injury at the beginning of the Internationals, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to fill in for the speedy winger. The latter started for England and even scored a week back. Theo won’t be a big miss if the younger Englishman can contribute in accordance with his potential. Another big name missing will be Jack Wilshere, who has just recovered from his injury. He has started training this week but won’t be match-fit for the game on Saturday. Meanwhile, Abou Diaby has injured his knee in training and is expected to be out for nine months – it goes from bad to worse for the Frenchman.
Kieran Gibbs might be a late miss too, he will have to give a fitness test tomorrow to confirm his availability for the game. In the absence of Gibbs, Nacho Monreal can continue at Left Back, he was phenomenal mid-week against France, earning a man-of-the-match performance.
Match-Fit Rosicky and Ramsey will fight for midfield berths alongside captain Mikel Arteta. If Cazorla is still deployed left, Podolski will be left out. But, considering that Theo and Jack are not available, Arsene might bring in one of Rosicky or Podolski to provide more creative outlet instead of going for the safe option of Ramsey, the Welshman being among goals in the recently concluded Qualifiers. Giroud will start at the top of the formation with almost no competition for his place in the entire squad.
Another incredible performance in the game against Spain means Koscielny will surely keep his place in the side, leaving Vermaelen in the bench. Fabianski has done absolutely nothing wrong to be dropped, and is expected to continue. Monreal and Jenkinson, both in outstanding form will continue to perform Full Back duties.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski; Giroud
It has been just two days since new manager Nigel Adkins took the job with The Royals. After a series of extremely poor results, Brian McDermott, who had served the club really well, was sacked. Adkins, a former Goal-keeper with Wigan Athletic and other clubs, managed Southampton quite well previously. He starts of his near-impossible target of avoiding relegation with a visit to Arsenal. Arsenal have won all 11 of their previous competitive meetings with Reading, including two wins already this season, which certainly doesn’t make Adkins’ job any easier.
Reading have picked up just five points in their travels so far this season, maybe they consider a new manager to be a lucky charm to turn things around. It can’t get any worse, any ways. The new manager has already shown huge positivity upon his appointment,though all the work has to be done on the field from now on –
“Do we dare to dream about getting the amount of points we need to accumulate to stay up? We’ve got to. We’ve got to believe we’re going to do it. Of course we’ve talked about it in the discussions and I’ve joined Reading Football Club. I want to be in the Premier League. We’ve got to have a belief and a desire. We’ll take one game at a time and make sure this football club stays in the Premier League. That’s what I’ve come here to do. It’s a great challenge we’ve got. We’re in the Premier League and we’ve got to make sure we remain in the Premier League. We’re going to relish the challenge that we’re now faced with. We look to the future. We look forward with positivity. And I’m really pleased and privileged to be Reading manager.”
As far as injury news go, Jason Roberts misses the game and the rest of the season after a hip operation, while Jimmy Kebe and Adam Federici are progressing well after injuries. Danny Guthrie and Alex McCarthy are both back in training. Pavel Pogrebnyak has now served his three-match ban and is available for the trip to Arsenal. He might not be used as he is not match-fit. In that case, Noel Hunt will start up-front as the solo-striker, sitting behind him will be important man Robson-Kanu who scored for Wales in mid-week.
Goal-keeper Alex McCarthy has returned from injury and has recently played an U-21 game too. The keeper will sit on the bench as Stuart Taylor will continue his work between the sticks. Midfielder Danny Guthrie has returned to training after a knee injury kept him out of our trip to Old Trafford. Adrian Mariappa and Ian Harte will sit in front of goal as Nicky Shorey and Stephen Kelly will take up Full-Back responsibilities.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-5-1): Taylor; Kelly, Mariappa, Harte, Shorey; Leigertwood, McCleary, McAnuff, Karacan, Robson-Kanu, Hunt
- If only the second half of Premier League games counted this season, Arsenal would be top of the league by four points. If games ended at half-time, they’d be 12th in the table.
- Arsenal have averaged the highest possession figure in the Premier League this season (57.9%), while Reading have the lowest (39.4%)
- The Gunners are yet to lose a Premier League game that they have taken the lead in this season (W14 D2).
- Arsenal have conceded only two goals after the 75th minute of Premier League games this season; a league-low. [Stats via EuroSport]
Player To Watch Out For
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
The Frenchman, even though was the best defender for Arsenal last season, has spent most of his time on the bench this season. With a late season purple patch and a continual poor form of Captain Vermaelen, Koscielny now gets a great chance to keep his place intact in the team. It was wonderful to see the former Ligue 2 player to walk out with the French team against Spain in mid-week.
Arsenal 4-1 Reading
After a few nervous moments due to fatigue, Arsenal will settle down well. They will start with the scoring and grab the top-hand in the game. Reading will come back with a goal, but it will be too late and too much for The Royals.