Reading v Arsenal
Kick off: Saturday April 18, 2015 – 17.20 PM BST
We certainly did things the hard way, but we eventually scraped through our FA Cup semi-final against Reading with a 2-1 victory.
There were a host of changes from the manager, and not all of them necessarily wise. Wojciech Szczesny replaced David Ospina in goal, while it was all change for the full-backs with Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs coming in. Neither Hector Bellerin nor Calum Chambers were on the bench, so we had to hope the Frenchman had a good game.
Danny Welbeck also came into the team in place of Olivier Giroud, with the in form forward perhaps needing a rest.
The former Manchester United man started brightly, and almost pounced on a long ball over the top from Gibbs. The keeper reacted in time however, and the ball bounced off Welbeck and out for a goal kick.
Reading were pressing aggressively all over the pitch, but we looked to be dealing with it well. We earned a corner early on, and Per Mertesacker saw his header saved at the near post.
Mesut Özil stepped up to take a free-kick with 20 minutes gone, and it was reminiscent of the one he scored against Liverpool two weeks ago.
He went for the opposite corner this time however, and Adam Federici was diving helplessly as it shot goalwards. It drifted inches wide in the end, and the Australian keeper breathed a sigh of relief.
We were struggling with the high-press Reading were applying, and we were anything but comfortable on the ball. We spent large parts of the first half playing side-to-side across our defence, probing and looking for an opening.
Reading let their guard down for a moment however, leaving Özil in far too much space at the edge of the box. He chipped a fantastic ball over the top for Alexis Sanchez, with the Chilean pulling it out of the air just a few yards from goal.
He was instantly closed down, but showed quick feet to retain possession. The former Barcelona star squeezed his shot away under pressure, and slipped it between Federici’s open legs. 1-0.
Reading started the brighter side in the second half, and we looked as though we felt the game was already won. We were punished for our attitude with 54 minutes gone, Reading equalising after some poor defending.
Pavel Pogrebnyak managed to put the ball in from our right-side, and more certainly should have been done to stop the cross. The ball fell to Garath McCleary unmarked on the far side, and his shot deflected off Gibbs as it bobbled goalwards.
The deflection fooled Szczesny, who fumbled the ball disappointingly. It initially looked like he might have kept it out, but replays showed it was well over the line. 1-1.
We were forced into a change with just over an hour gone, our captain on the day Per Mertesacker replaced by Gabriel Paulista due to an unknown injury. The Brazilian looked a little shaky defensively, and struggled with the physicality of Reading.
He looked to be having more joy at the other end, and almost scored from a corner. His powerful header looked destined for the top corner, but Federici got his fingertips to it and pushed it onto the bar.
He got another chance soon after, and an arguably far easier one at that. He really should have troubled Federici, but his headed effort sailed high and wide.
Aaron Ramsey should have put the game to bed with just minutes to go, with the Welshman put through on goal by late substitute Olivier Giroud.
He rather luckily bundled his way past Federici, and the ball fell at his feet with almost an open goal ahead of him. He somehow contrived to hit the post with his left-footed smash however, and was left holding his head in disbelief.
It was his weak foot and a tight angle, but he certainly should have done better.
We reached 90 minutes with the scores level, and were forced into extra time. Ramsey almost made up for his earlier miss, with a powerful drive kept just out by Federici. It was a poor save, with the ball practically going through the Royals shot-stopper. He got lucky however, with the ball bouncing up and narrowly over the bar.
He seemed to use up all his luck with that save though, as we were gifted the lead by an absolute howler at the half way point of extra time.
Sanchez cut inside from the left, but the angle didn’t look right for the shot. He could have tried to pick out Giroud, but instead went for the shot when it didn’t really look on.
It was straight at Federici, who got his hands to the low driven strike. The ball somehow squirmed it’s way through his legs, and he could only claw helplessly at it as it crept over the line. 2-1.
We played out the final 15 minutes without too many problems, despite Reading throwing everything forward. There were plenty of clearances and long balls played up the field, but we held on for the win.
It certainly wasn’t vintage Arsenal, but we are into the final and have a chance of retaining the FA Cup.