Sunday, 16 December 2012

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Reading Previewed

As I write this Arsenal are eighth in the Premier League after their worst start to a season under Arsene Wenger. In his 16 years in charge at Arsenal there have been ups and downs, but things seem to have reached a low point at the moment. The club have consistently sold their best players for the past few years for one reason or another and it looks like they could be paying the price now.

On the face of it the club is in turmoil and there are those who believe it's time for Wenger to go. The trophy cabinet has laid bare since the FA Cup win of 2005 and the team seems further from winning a trophy than at any other time in the seven and a half years since then. Champions League football has always been delivered in those years, but there's a real possibility of Arsenal missing out on it this season.

It's not all doom and gloom though and Arsenal have the chance to start to put things right very quickly. They play twice before any of the teams above them play again and six points would see them move into third place. Those two games are against teams in the relegation zone and very winnable despite all the current problems.

They start with a trip to Reading tonight and Reading are currently propping up the other 19 Premier League clubs. They have won only once in their seven home games so far and that's their sole victory in 16 league games this season. Their first choice team were unable to defeat a second string Arsenal team in the Capital One Cup at the same venue not so long ago.

Of course that game epitomised so much of what is right and wrong with the current Arsenal team. They found themselves 4-0 down in that game but managed to come back and win 7-5 after extra time. The defending that night was awful, but when the team clicked in attack they showed what they are capable of.

The Arsenal team had seemed to have started on the road to recovery with the 2-0 victory over West Brom last week, but the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to League Two Bradford on penalties was the latest in a line of really bad performances. The boss took the risk of putting out his strongest team in an effort to avoid any humiliation and book a place in the semi finals too. His decision backfired and Bradford got a famous and well deserved victory which they won't forget in a very long time.

It's been almost a week since that game and I hope the Arsenal players have been hurting as much as their fans in that week. The traveling Arsenal support are absolutely magnificent and deserve far more than they were given by the team on that night. I have no doubt that they will be heard singing loud and proud again tonight and hopefully they can get a performance worthy of that great support.

As I said Arsenal can move into third place by winning tonight and then winning away to Wigan in the early kick off on Saturday. Their first priority is tonight's game though and three points would see them rise to fifth in the league. The battle for first and second looks increasing like a closed shop between the two Manchester clubs, but the other two Champions League places are up for grabs.

The team probably won't be much different from the one that lost to Bradford but Laurent Koscielny should be available to play if chosen. There is no definitive word on Theo Walcott's fitness yet, but his inclusion could be a real boost for the team in this game. He gave Reading a torrid time in Arsenal's Capital One Cup victory as they struggled to cope with his pace.

I have no doubt that Mikael Arteta will return to the team and his inclusion should see the midfield operating a lot more efficiently. Olivier Giroud is available for selection too and I would be shocked if he didn't start the game.

He has only started 11 of Arsenal's 16 league games this season despite being the only real contender in the squad for the centre forward role. He did come off the bench in the other five games though and I think he has to start when he's fit. If he is to gain the confidence needed to play the role he has to have confidence shown in him by the boss.

I can't see how the sight of Gervinho starting in the centre forward role ahead of Giroud can do anything for his confidence. In my opinion Gervinho is just not good enough to play in that position and he quite simply should not be played there. He is more of a hindrance to the team than an asset when he plays there and it's only stubbornness that sees him chosen.

Reading have struggled in defence this season and Arsenal will create plenty of goalscoring chances as long as they give their all. It might well be a matter of their ability to take those chances which decides the outcome of the game. There are goals in this Arsenal team, but they haven't scored too many away from home so far.

They have managed only eight goals in eight away games and didn't score in three of those games. The games they failed to score in we're games against teams who played very defensively. I don't know if Reading are capable of shutting up shop, but if they can keep tight at the back it's probably the best chance they have of getting any result.

On the other hand no team had conceded less away goals than Arsenal so far despite some very tough away fixtures. Despite Arsenal's supposed defensive frailties only Stoke and City have better defensive records than them too. Reading will look to test them in the air from set pieces and that is where Arsenal have looked vulnerable.

It has to be remembered that Reading are far more vulnerable though and they make mistakes under pressure. If Arsenal can put them under enough pressure to make those mistakes I think they will win the game. I'm predicting a 3-1 victory for Arsenal and a little respite from all the negativity for the team and the manager.

A second league win in a row would be a welcome boost ahead of a trip to another team in the relegation zone. If they can win both games and move into third it will put pressure on Spurs and Chelsea before they play their games. It would be great for Arsenal to have the points in the bag and sit back and watch the teams behind them try to catch up.

There are plenty of points to be won over the Christmas period. In the next 16 days Arsenal could win as many as 15 points in five games that they are more than capable of winning. The new year would look an awful lot better if Arsenal went into it with those 15 points in their pocket and a good deal of money available to spend bin the transfer window.

Of course this Arsenal team has been anything but consistent and it's an awful lot to expect from them. I have no doubt that they are capable of it though and it's a matter of playing to their potential. It will take a mixture of hard work, good attitude and confidence for them to do do and I just hope the team can find that mixture.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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