Olivier Giroud is set to return to action as Arsenal go in search of a place in the EFL Cup quarterfinals in Tuesday’s fourth-round clash at home to Reading. Giroud, who has started just one match this season – Arsenal’s opening Champions League encounter at Paris Saint-Germain – has missed the last month with a toe injury.
If the France striker does get on the pitch on Tuesday, he will certainly have plenty to prove. Having often faced skepticism over whether he is of the quality required to lead Arsenal to major honors, Giroud has seen his place taken this season by Alexis Sánchez’s move in from the flank. Meanwhile, Lucas Pérez has arrived from Spain to offer further competition.
Without Giroud, Arsene Wenger’s side went on a seven-match winning run to take it joint top of the Premier League table. However, the former Montpellier man will feel that his worth to the team was shown in his absence on Saturday when Arsenal failed to break down a defensively disciplined Middlesbrough side at the Emirates Stadium.
While Giroud may have to settle for a place on the bench as he begins his return from injury, Wenger has made clear there will be a number of changes for the visit of the Championship outfit, as was the case when beating Nottingham Forest 4-0 in the previous round.
“It will be a similar squad to against Nottingham Forest,” Wenger said on Monday. “We will have Gabriel, [Rob] Holding, [Carl] Jenkinson will be back and will play. Jeff Reine-Adelaide will play, otherwise I think [Alex] Iwobi, Lucas, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain will also play. [Kieran] Gibbs – who captained the team at Forest – will do it again on Tuesday.”
While Giroud has pressure on his shoulders to perform so, too, does Pérez. The Spaniard arrived from Deportivo La Coruna in the summer for £17 million but has started just one Premier League game and has yet to score a goal. He did find the net twice in the previous round of the EFL Cup and Wenger has urged him to take advantage of another chance on Tuesday.
“I believe he has the potential to be a great player for us,” Wenger said. “In training he continues to show he has the potential to play, he now has to transfer that into the games. The more he does that - against Reading he will have an opportunity – the more we will be tempted to say, ‘let’s do it’.”
If Tuesday’s encounter is anything like the last meeting between Arsenal and Reading in the League Cup four years ago then Pérez should have plenty of opportunities. At the same stage of the competition in 2012, Reading improbably went 4-0 ahead inside the first 35 minutes before Arsenal mounted an even more improbable comeback to win 7-5.
Reading would be relegated from the Premier League at the end of that season and is still trying to find its way back to the Premier League, currently sitting in eighth place in the Championship. Adding spice to Tuesday’s fixture, the club is now under the charge of a man who knows all about confrontations with Arsenal.
Jaap Stam was a member of the Manchester United team that contested some thrilling intense duels with Arsenal as the two teams battled for superiority at the turn of the century. Now in his first managerial role, the former Holland center back guided Reading to its first win in five matches away at Rotherham United on Saturday.
Prediction: Wenger has already spelled out the fact that he will make big changes to his lineup on Tuesday. However, the players coming in still have plenty of quality and, just as importantly, something to prove. Reading has found goals hard to come by in recent weeks, meaning a repeat of the goal-fest of 2012 is unlikely and that the Championship side should come off second best.
Predicted Score: Arsenal 2-0 Reading
Kickoff Time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
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