Saturday, 18 April 2015

Arsenal v Reading: FA Cup Semi Final Preview

Arsenal are in great form at the moment and have won 16 of their 19 games since the turn of the year. They have won their last eight league games in a row too and have come through every round of the FA Cup without the need for a replay. Not only that, but they're the cup holders and favourites to retain the trophy they won against Hull last May.

Arsenal had a relatively easy draw up until the quarter finals, but they went to Old Trafford in that game and got their first win away to United in a long time. Their reward in the semi final is a game against Championship strugglers Reading with the winners getting to play the final on the last Saturday in May. When Arsenal won the cup last season it was their first trophy in nine years and they have the opportunity to make it two seasons in a row with a trophy.

The FA Cup might not be as glamorous as the Premier League or the Champions League, but you can be sure teams such as City and United would be delighted to be only one game away from a Wembley final. Some of the magic had gone out of the cup in the last few years, but it seems to be returning again with some great giant killing feats and some very good games. Arsenal have the chance to write themselves into the record books if they can win the cup as the team who have won it most. As it stands both Arsenal and United have lifted the trophy 11 times, but Arsenal could have the chance to surpass United's total if they can get past Reading and into the final.

Arsene Wenger has almost every single first team squad player available to him ahead of the game with the exception of Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arteta isn't quite match fit and Chamberlain is still a couple of weeks away from making his return from injury. He has a lot of decisions to make and could probably pick two full teams if he had to.

Wojciech Szczesny will return in goal as he's now the designated FA Cup keeper and has recovered from the injury which kept him off the bench recently. He missed out on playing in the final last season with Lukasz Fabianski as the nominated cup keeper and he could find himself in the reverse position with David Ospina if Arsenal make it to the final. If they do beat Reading I would be very surprised to see a change of keeper for the final and Szczesny will get the chance I thought he should have got last season.

The team selection could go either way with the boss going for his current favoured team or bringing in a completely different set of players. I think he will more than likely use a mix of first choices and the players on the fringes and returning from injury. I think Kieran Gibbs, Gabrial Paulista, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck will all more than likely play from the start, but it might be a dangerous move to change the whole team.

Reading haven't had a good season in the league and they're only eight points clear of the relegation zone with four games to go. They're not going to be relegated, but the FA Cup has been a welcome distraction for fans who have only seen 12 wins in 42 league games this season. They will have to lift their game an awful lot to get a result against an Arsenal team with so much class in it no matter which team the boss chooses.

This will be Arsenal's fourth trip to Wembley in the last year, but they will hopefully play a lot better than they did in last year's semi final. On that day Arsenal came far too close to going out to the then holders and Champuonship side Wigan and they only advanced after extra time and penalties. I have no doubt Reading will make things as difficult as possible for Arsenal and will feel they have a chance if they can get the first goal.

They will look to put Arsenal under pressure from any set pieces they can get near the Arsenal penalty area and to close Arsenal down in possession. It will be a 90 minute job for them to try to stop Arsenal though and any lapses will be pounced upon by a team who have scored in each of their last eight games. If neither team wins it in 90 minutes them extra time and possibly even penalties will loom as the game progresses. 

That semi final win on penalties last season was followed by a victory in the final in May despite Arsenal going 2-0 down to Hull early on. The only Wembley game they have won in normal time in those three games was the Community Shield against City in August, but surely they will be used to the pressure of the occasion and can play their own game. There is no doubt that they're the better team, but they have to win the fight to get the right to play their football.

The TV companies have conspired to put the Arsenal game on at almost the same time as the Chelsea v United game. I just can't understand how they can justify putting the games on at the same time. The bigger TV Auduence will probably watch the Arsenal game as it's free to air, but it just doesn't make sense to split the audience. There's huge interest in that game from an Arsenal perspective with the teams directly above and below Arsenal playing each other.

I'll be at a family event which just so happens to be in a pub which will have both games on different TVs, but I'm booked on to a mini bus to go elsewhere before half time. It's something that was arranged a long time ago and I can't get out of, but I'll be anxiously checking my phone for updates until I reach my destination which should again have both games on TV. 

It's a game which Arsenal are expected to win and which Reading have very little to lose in. They can have a real go at Arsenal and come in for very little criticism no matter how the game goes. On the other hand all hell will break loose on social media in particular if Arsenal lose and that's never a pretty thing.

I don't think they will lose though and I think they will have enough class to win by a couple of goals at least no matter what team the boss picks. They will have to be very wary of Reading at set pieces in particular and they can't afford to start as slowly as they did in last year's final. As long as the players don't think the task is too easy they should be up for it though and they should book a final date with either Liverpool or Villa on May 30.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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