29 March 2013

Arsenal Vs. Reading: Preview and Predictions

Well, we won't have Marouane Chamakh's heroics to count on against Reading this time around, leaving us to wonder where the goals will  come—oh, wait. Never mind. I was briefly lost in an alternate universe in which the Moroccan regularly delivers braces for us. Silly, silly me. On to more serious news and assessments of our prospects for tomorrow's match, not to mention closing the gap on 4th place with Spurs traveling to Swansea...

Ahead of Saturday’s match against Reading, we have to set aside the bad news regarding Wilshere and Diaby and prepare as if we’re facing a desperate and therefore dangerous team. Reading, after all, sits seven points deep in the relegation zone and have taken the rather drastic step of switching managers with only eight games to play. Nigel Adkins comes over from Southampton, a side that Adkins has promoted to the Premier League after climbing up from League One in consecutive seasons. His hiring probably comes too soon for him to make any drastic changes, but he is known for preferring a fluid, attacking style based on a lot of passing and movement. If this liberates Reading from McDermott’s more staid, formulaic approach, we might just see more goals scored tomorrow than we’ve seen in our previous two matches combined—one a comfortable 5-2 win and the other a somewhat messier 7-5 win in the Capital One Cup. If, however, we can continue the form that has delivered two clean sheets in our last two outings, we should be able to put this one to bed early, if not often.

The absences of Wilshere and Diaby, as well as that of Walcott, come as old news—the only addition to the first two is their length, if not their cruelty. In the name of trying to remain blissful, if not ignorant, we should set this issue aside for now in order to return to more immediate issues, namely the return to fitness of Podolski and Sagna.  The German, in particular, is one whom I'm pegging (try not to chuckle) for a big outing. He's rested a while in order to overcome his nagging injury, and I see him capitalizing on his deeper reserves of energy to re-establish the partnership he and Giroud had established earlier in the season, leading to one or both of them netting. Across the middle, I would love to see Tomas Rosický step in for Wilshere, joining Cazorla, Arteta, and the Ox in an aggressive midfield. Across the backline, Gibbs is out due to the flu, apparently, so I'd look for Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Jenkinson to control Reading's attack, such as it is. I'd look for Fabianski to continue to play as well--not to unduly "punish" Vermaelen or Szczęsny, but because Fabianski has done well, as have Koscielny and Mertesacker. For those inclined towards message-sending, I do believe one more match on the bench for Vermaelen and Szczęsny will confirm that Wenger is not engaging in silly saber-rattling by dropping them for a few matches each. Let's just pray that the message doesn't come at the cost of points.

Back to Reading, who have scored seven on us in two matches, including that 7-5 win in the Capital One Cup. This did come amidst a number of other matches in which we struggled: the 1-0 loss to Norwich, a 2-0 loss to Schalke in the UCL, a labored 1-0 win over QPR. Then again, the side that conceded five goals included a keeper named Martinez and a backline that featured Djourou and Miquel. In other words, not our A-Team.

We therefore come in to this match on a different run of form, with two consecutive 2-0 wins at Bayern and again at Swansea, while Reading comes in on a five-game losing streak, although it does include a tough 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, showing that they do have some spirit in them. Having said that, they bring one win, two draws, and twelve losses on the road  and have a -16 goal differential to boot. If we can't make short work of them, we don't deserve a top-four finish.

Speaking of the top four, Spurs visit Swansea, a tough match for them even if they Bale were in form. How sweet it would be to see us sitting a mere point behind our dear friends (with a game in hand as well)! Oh, dear Swansea, don't settle for a trophy in your 100th season. Think of the bragging rights at stake should you defeat not one, but two London clubs in the same campaign. I'm just offering that as icing on the cake.

As we bring this post to a close, I leave you with this as my prediction:
  • Arsenal 3-1 Reading
  • Spurs 1-1 Swansea
This leaves us a whopping two points behind Spurs, again with a game in hand. If this does come to pass, I do feel like calling in an order for St. Totteringham's Day invites is not out of line.