Six days after crashing out to Bradford in the Capital One Cup, Arsenal return to action with a trip to the Madejski Stadium. Given the ignominy of their defeat to the side form England’s fourth tier and the subsequent fallout from it, Arsenal may well have wished that they could have gotten on the pitch sooner.
Much has been written that the loss represented the culmination of several years of lack of investment in the playing squad coupled with the departure of the club’s star players. Certainly manager Arsene Wenger has never been under so much pressure as he has in the past few days, while there has also been speculation of a rift between the Frenchman and his assistant Steve Bould.
“I believe it’s a good opportunity to show that we are strong inside the Club and let people talk,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official website.
“We are criticized when our results are not good—we have to take that on the chin.
“We are in a position where it’s down to us,” he added. “I think we had a good game against West Brom [a 2-0 victory earlier this month]. Of course the Capital One Cup game came then but our season will be judged on how well we do in the Premier League and in the Champions League, and after in the FA Cup.
“What is important now is to focus on that. We are close to coming back in the league. It will depend on the next two or three results.”
Despite the malaise that currently engulfs the Emirates, there is still reason for optimism. If the Gunners were to beat Reading on Monday then they would be just two points behind Chelsea and Tottenham in third and fourth place, respectively, in the Premier League.
When Arsenal and Reading last met it provided arguably the most incredible games of the season as the Gunners came from 4-0 down to progress in the Capital One Cup with a 7-5 extra-time victory.
Conceding goals has been a problem all season long for Brian McDermott’s side. After a run of five-straight defeats, Reading now sit bottom of the Premier League.
In attack, McDemrott should receive a boost with the return to fitness of Pavel Pogrebnyak and Jason Roberts. Defender Sean Morrison and midfielders Jimmy Kebe and Jem Karacan remain sidelined.
Arsenal will have Olivier Giroud back after a back problem, while Theo Walcott also looks likely to be included. Defender Laurent Koscielny will face a late fitness test.
D: Cummings, Mariappa, Pearce, Shorey
M: Robson-Kanu, Leigertwood, Tabb, McAnuff
F: Hunt, Le Fondre
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
M: Wilshere, Arteta
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
Prediction: Arsenal’s players should be raring to get back on the pitch and start correcting the ills of the performance at Bradford last week. But, Reading have given both Manchester United and Chelsea problems this season and could have some joy going forward against Arsenal’s defense.
However, with both Giroud and Walcott likely to be back, Arsenal should be able to outscore their opponents in what could be an entertaining encounter.
Reading 2-3 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League clash will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN 2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.