Saturday, 30 March 2013

Arsenal's Premier League Game With Reading Previewed

The dreaded international break is finally over and Arsenal can get back to the important matter of assuring Champions League qualification for next season. They have nine games left to get as many points as possible and try to overtake either Spurs or Chelsea. It won't be an easy task but it's one the team are capable of living up to.

The first game of those nine is at home to relegation threatened Reading and it's one Arsenal should be winning handsomely. Reading have the worst away record in the league with only five points taken from 15 games so far. They have also conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League at the moment.

Of course statistics can be used to prove or disprove just about anything and can never be fully trusted. I could just as easily tell you Reading have scored more goals against Arsenal than any other team this season with seven goals in two games on their own ground. Arsenal did manage 12 goals in those games though and won them both of course.

Reading sacked ex Arsenal player Brian McDermott from his position as their manager a couple of weeks ago and replaced him with Nigel Adkins. Adkins looked to have been harshly treated when he was sacked by Southampton in January himself and will be looking to prove his credentials at Reading. This will be their first game under his control and a team with a new manager can be a dangerous animal sometimes.

Players will feel they have something to prove to a new manager and some players might get a new chance after being discarded by the previous regime. In Reading's last game they played quite well and only lost 1-0 away to runaway leaders United. They had a temporary manager in charge for that game and their players gave their all for the cause.

Arsenal cannot be complacent and need to treat their opponents with the utmost respect. They have to make sure they play at their best and do all they can to kill the game off as quickly as possible. Reading have been known for their comebacks this season and Arsenal need to make sure they get no such opportunity in this game.

In team news the international break has taken it's toll with Theo Walcott unavailable after picking up a knock. Jack Wilshere is still unavailable due to his ankle injury and will miss next week's game at West Brom too. Kieran Gibbs has been sick in bed and the chances are Nacho Monreal will fill the left back slot in this game.

Poor old Abou Diaby injured his left knee in training on Wednesday and will miss the next nine months. He had so much potential before his horrendous injury against Sunderland seven years ago. We have only seen little bits of what he can do since then and sadly I don't think he will ever get to fulfill his potential.

Bacary Sagna is available again and so is Lukas Podolski and the chances are they will both come straight back into the team. Carl Jenkinson might feel a little hard done by if Sagna plays, but Sagna is still the first choice right back at the club. Hopefully he can play more like the Sagna of old than like the Sagna of the last couple of months before his injury.

Lukasz Fabianski should continue in goal with Wojciech Szczesny on the bench again. It was a bit of a shock to see Fabianski come from almost nowhere in terms of recent playing time to usurp Szczesny, but he has looked the part in the two games he has played. Hopefully Szczesny can come back an even stronger and better goalkeeper and the competition can only do Arsenal good.

The big choice for Arsene Wenger will be his central defensive pairing and I hope he goes with the pair that have started the last two games. For me the best pairing are Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny which means the club captain has to miss out. I'm not so sure how Thomas Vermaelen feels about it but hopefully he can try hard to regain the form he has shown in previous seasons.

With Wilshere missing I think the midfield more or less picks itself with Mikael Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey the starting trio. Walcott's absence will see either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho start on the right with Podolski probably returning on the left. That means Olivier Giroud will play through the middle and hopefully he can stay fit as he is the only player we have who can play there in my opinion.

The task at hand is quite simple for Arsenal. They have to play at home to the worst defence in the league and against the team with the worst away record too. They need to impose their game on Reading from first minute to last and not let up at all. There's an opportunity to put real pressure on both Spurs and Chelsea who have tricky away games at the same time that Arsenal play.

If Arsenal can win and Spurs don't beat Swansea then Arsenal's fate is in their own hands again with a game in hand. Spurs have crumbled in this position in the past and there's no reason why they shouldn't do so again. Arsenal need to keep winning games to take advantage of any points dropped by Spurs or Chelsea.

A top four finish is so important to bring Champions League football and the TV revenue from that is probably 10 times the revenue from Europa League football. It would be a shame if half of Arsenal's transfer kitty had to be set aside to cover the fall in income from not making it through to the Champions League.   

Of course this weekend is very special to Arsenal fans for another reason as tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of the day David "Rocky" Rocastle was so cruelly taken from us. He was so young at only 33 years of age and despite moving from Arsenal he will always be remembered by our fans as a truly great player. I was lucky enough to see him play on a few occasions myself and tomorrow will be a sad day for me.

Hopefully the team can get a result to cheer the fans on such a sad occasion and I'm sure he will be fondly remembered at the game today. One of my favourite memories of Rocky in an Arsenal shirt was the magnificent goal he scored away to Manchester United in 1991. He showed exactly how good he was with that goal and I've included it below for all to see.

I'm hoping for a great Arsenal performance today to show the teams they're chasing that Arsenal won't give up in their quest to catch them. Three points and a good performance would be the ideal way to kick start the run in and I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal.

Football is a simple game and Arsenal are a better team than Reading. They quite simply have to show that along with hard work and desire and I'm sure they will reap the rewards. Anything other than a win would be a huge blow and just cannot be allowed to happen.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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