As the Premier League enters its final stretch, both Arsenal and Reading will be desperate for the three points when the two sides meet at the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsenal currently lie four points behind Tottenham, albeit with a game in hand, in the battle for the final Champions League place and know that slipups will have to be few and far between until the end of the season.
Manager Arsene Wenger’s buildup to the match, though, has been hit by several injury blows. Most notably, midfielder Abou Diaby has picked up the latest in a long line of serious injuries that will rule him out for up to nine months. Theo Walcott will also be absent for this weekend’s clash, while Jack Wilshere has been ruled out for another two weeks.
While the injury is to the other ankle than the problem that ruled Wilshere out for well over a year, Wenger is taking a cautious approach with the key midfielder.
“We will rest him when it is needed,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “He has regular scans and as soon as we have an alert we will respect it no matter what is at stake.
“He had a difficult moment of course when you told him [he would be rested] because he didn’t feel any special pain. But he knows he has to take care of his future. Because he is a very young player, I think he accepts it.”
The match is also of huge importance for Reading and the club’s new manager Nigel Adkins. It is an unenviable task for the former Southampton boss, trying to lead a side to safety that currently finds itself rooted to the bottom of the table and seven points from safety.
Brian McDermott’s replacement will at least be boosted by the return from suspension of Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, while goalkeeper Alex McCarthy is fit after a long layoff. Adkins will be hoping to fare better than his last visit to the Emirates, when his Southampton side lost 6-1.
D: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Ramsey, Arteta
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski
D; Kelly, Mariappa, Pearce, Shorey
M: Robson-Kanu, Karacan, Leigertwood, Akpan, McAnuff
Prediction: The arrival of a new manager so often gives a team a short-term boost and Adkins’ renowned motivational abilities could provide an even bigger lift to Reading. Adkins’s Southampton side were extremely forward thinking and it will be interesting to see if he adopts a similar approach with Reading.
But, despite their injuries, Arsenal have shown an ability to grind out results when not at their best in recent weeks and could well do something similar again on Saturday.
Arsenal 2-1 Reading
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. A live stream will be available on Fox Soccer 2Go.