For the second year in a row Arsenal will face a Championship side in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley. This time it’s Reading that are going to be our penultimate obstacle on our way to retain the trophy. In a way, it will be a horror-show for Spuds – they don’t like us and they don’t like reading either (see what I did there?).
We have been superb in 2015 with fifteen victories in seventeen matches in domestic competition. Reading, on the other hand, haven’t won a game since 10th March and victory over our old pals Brighton & Hove Albion. They’ll stay in the Championship next season but it’s not like a team that had played in the Premiership in 2012-13 can be satisfied with that.
Speaking of 2012-13, we haven’t met Reading since that season. We won all three matches, scoring sixteen goals in the process. Of course, everyone’s first memory will be that incredible match at the Madejski Stadium in the League Cup when we won 7:5 (after extra-time) after being four goals down. Our team on that day was a mixed one with players like Arshavin, Frimpong, Chamakh, Martinez, Djourou, Miquel…but also with nowadays beaters Coquelin and Koscielny with fairly poor performances. Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick, Andrey Arshavin created three goals and if you felt that the Earth stopped rotating for a while, it was because Marouane Chamakh scored a brace. There was also a funny moment when Coquelin and Giroud – unaware of the rules in the League Cup – threw their shirts to our supporters after ninety minutes and had to ask them back for the extra-time.
There are still some familiar names from that game in the Reading team. Federici is still their goalkeeper, Gunter plays as a full-back, Robson-Kanu – who scored in the last match between the sides in 2013 – is their top-scorer in the FA Cup with three goals to his name, the Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak can score a goal on his day as well and players like Mackie and Yakubu knew how to make our life difficult in the Premiership. They are yet to play a Premiership team in the FA Cup though and the fact that they are facing the best team in the League at the moment won’t help their cause.
We are favourites to win this one and any other scenario would be a huge disappointment. We are the best team in England at the moment and we should beat The Royals comfortably. With all due respect to our opponents, it shouldn’t be a similar match to the one against Wigan last year. Back then we were in rather poor shape with Everton leap-frogging us in the League. There was huge pressure on the players to deliver the first trophy in nine years. Now we enter this match on the back of eight consecutive league victories and as the FA Cup holders. Not to mention that we have a much better team than we had at this time last year.
I expect Arsene Wenger to select the following eleven today:
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Wojciech Szczesny is back between the sticks. The Pole hasn’t had the best of campaigns but unlike the last season, there is a chance he might actually contribute to our FA Cup trophy this year – last season it was Lukasz Fabianski who was in charge in the FA Cup. He has to be sharp and forget all his Cruyff-turns and other heartache-giving moments. David Ospina can rest on the bench today.
There are three options for our right full-back. Mathieu Debuchy might get the nod to make his first start since the match against Stoke in January. In case Wenger feels Debuchy is still rusty, he’ll opt for either Hector Bellerin or Calum Chambers. Chambers can start in the heart of the defence as well. I’d say Bellerin will start.
Kieran Gibbs might get a chance to show he can do everything Nacho Monreal can. Gibbs likes to bomb down the flank so he might act more like an extra-winger on the pitch.
Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel should start in the middle even if Per Mertesacker has experience of scoring goals in FA Cup semifinals.
Francis Coquelin is usually the first name on the team-sheet but given that our next game is against Chelsea and the referee in charge of today’s game is Martin Atkinson, Wenger might think twice before including the Frenchman in the starting line-up. Mathieu Flamini and Santi Cazorla in the middle should be too much for Reading. The Spaniard has scored his only hat-trick for Arsenal against Reading in the 5:2 League victory at Madejski Stadium and added one more in the reverse fixture. Perhaps Wenger might shuffle things a bit though and add Jack Wilshere next to Flamini with Cazorla in the No. 10 role. Flamini has also scored one goal against Reading – he scored the opener in our 3:1 victory in 2007.
Tomas Rosicky might start on the wing. Rosicky’s performance against Brighton & Hove Albion was very impressive.
Theo Walcott expects his rare start today. He and Mertesacker are the only Arsenal players that have scored in an FA Cup semifinal. His pace should be enough for the team he scored four goals against in 2012-13.
Danny Welbeck – who scored the winning goal at Old Trafford that brought us to Wembley – might lead the attack today even if I’m not so sure that Wenger will drop in-form Olivier Giroud for this game. Still, our next league game is against Chelsea and I guess Wenger wants to keep his most important players from injuries and suspensions.
I’d say we’ll win 3:0 today with goals from Walcott (2) and Rosicky. We have won the last twelve meetings with The Royals that included goals from our flops Julio Baptista, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho. Now, it would be a good time to win one game against them while keeping a clean sheet in the process. The FA Cup trophy belongs to Arsenal FC!
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 31 Mar 2012 Arsenal FC 4 – Reading FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 17 Dec 2012 Reading FC 2 – Arsenal FC 5
Capital One Cup (COC) 30 Oct 2012 Reading FC 5 (4) – Arsenal FC 7 (4)
Premier League (EPL) 19 Apr 2008 Arsenal FC 2 – Reading FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 12 Nov 2007 Reading FC 1 – Arsenal FC 3
Bellerin Gabriel Koscielny Gibbs
Arsenal 3 v 0 Reading