18 April 2015

FA Cup Semifinal: Can Arsenal run rough-shod over Reading?

Mention “Arsenal” and “Reading” and thoughts surely flash back to that rather-infamous 5-7 League Cup clash, in which Arsenal a 1-4 halftime deficit into a scintillating, breath-taking and heart-breaking (for Reading) 5-7 win, courtesy of a Walcott hat-trick and a brace from Chamakh. Fast forward more than two years and only (a few of) the names have changed.

While we’ve had a bit of an easier road to this point than we had last year, that means nothing. After defeating the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton to get to this point last year, we needed extra-time to overcome Championship-sideWigan. Those who blithely assume that we’ll have a cakewalk against Reading after seeing off Hull, Brighton and Middlesbrough may not understand how this cup works. At Reading’s end, that 5-7 capitulation only accentuates the opportunity now before them—they could avenge that loss and upend the cup-holders in one fell-swoop. Everyone assumes that Arsenal will roll over Reading with ease, and that may prove out in the end. However, that mindset does provide Reading’s squad with fuel and fodder, and we at Arsenal would be sorely mistaken if we underestimate that.

It might sound silly to quake and quiver as we prepare to face a squad that has eked out three goals in its last four outings, but we can ill-afford to saunter in. The longer it takes us to take this one by the scruff, the harder it will get for us to do so.

As far as what we’ll face, it looks like Steve Clarke will stick with a traditional 4-4-2, having rested a few first-teamers for their midweek loss to Bournemouth. We’ll likely see an attack spearheaded by Pavel Pogrebnyak and and Simon Cox, although Pogrebnyak is nursing an injury that kept him out of the Bournemouth match. At our end, we are at something approaching full-strength and consider our options. It’s essential that we get an early lead in order to put this one to bed, perhaps all the more so as we keep one eye on the Prem, with Chelsea and Manchester United squaring off in a fixture that could have hefty implications for who finishes where in the Prem.

Having said all that, I’m confident that we’ll find our way past the Royals to secure a place in the final.

LAST 3
Arsenal 4-1 Reading (30.03.2013)
Reading 2-5 Arsenal (17.12.2012)
Reading 5-7 Arsenal (30.10.2012)

FACTFILE
The first-ever meeting between these clubs was a 1-3 win for Arsenal—in the 1987 FA Cup’s third round proper.
Arsenal have scored 16 goals in their last three outings against Reading.
Arsenal have won eight of their last ten FA Cup matches.

INJURIES
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta face late fitness-tests and are unlikely to be available.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Szczesny; Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Debuchy; Coquelin, Cazorla, Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Welbeck.

Lessons learnt against Wigan and Hull a season ago should inspire Arsenal to score early and often.

PREDICTION Reading 1-4 Arsenal

This match-preview fist appeared at Goonersphere.