Jump, Theo, jump! - Scott Heavey
Arsenal travel to the Madejski Stadium for the second time this season, in need of a win, and, preferably, a bloody good performance.
Reading v Arsenal
Madejski Stadium, Reading, Berkshire, The South, England's Mountain Green
Kickoff: Monday, 16 December 2012 at 8:00 PM GMT/3:00 PM EST/12:00 PM PST
Medium for transmitting and receiving moving images: ESPN2, ESPN3.com
Has everyone calmed down after last Tuesday? Everyone? Ok, good, because it's going to be referenced. Arsenal travel to the scene of their last League Cup win as they travel to Reading, where, of course, they beat the Royals 7-5 in a crazy game where the Gunners were 4-0 down and Marouane Chamakh scored twice. That, though, was in October, and since then, lots has happened to change the make-up of this match. Reading beat Everton, though since that triumphant result, they've gone on an awful run, losing 5 in a row. Only one of those matches, though, was at the MadStad, where they lost to Manchester United 4-3, in a game that had five goals after 23 minutes. They're now bottom, 6 points from safety.
Arsenal, too, have disappointed since beating Reading 7-5. They too, will be feeling the pressure; despite winning their last league match, against West Bromwich Albion, the mid-week embarrassment against Bradford City have led to more CLUB IN CRISIS WENGER MUST GO articles from many of Fleet Street's fine bastions of journalism. Gary Neville, for what it's worth (quite a lot, in my book), reckon it's a load of hogwash (I'm paraphrasing).
Arsenal, though, could do with a win. Their matches until the end of the year--Reading away, Wigan away, West Ham and Newcastle at home--are relatively easy, and one feels that the Gunners have to take maximum advantage. With a win, Arsenal move into 5th, level on points with Everton and West Bromwich Albion, and two points behind Chelsea and the small club up the road. Such a result is very desirable; it'd ease some pressure off of Arsenal.
A win should be an attainable result against Reading. They've conceded 31 goals in 16 games; and the team that they played against Arsenal in the Capital One Cup isn't terribly different from the expected team tomorrow. Crucially, it features the same spine, with Sean Morrison, Kaspar Gorkss, Mikele Leighterwood and Jay Tabb all reasonably expected to start. That team had a weakness against Arsenal's pace and the ability to play through passes, so the good news for Arsenal is that Theo Walcott could be back. Reading also couldn't handle the physical skillfulness of Olivier Giroud, who is definitely back. Aside from that, there's no other returnees, with Laurent Koscielny out for about a week more and Abou Diaby, well, being Abou Diaby.
Reading's danger in the Capital One Cup game, and their danger in the Premier League, came from the wide areas. They're a very direct side; Leighterwood and Tabb's main job with the ball is to spread it wide to the wingers, who are two from Jobi McAnuff, Adam McCleary and Hal Robson-Kanu. All are very quick and good dribblers and crossers, and could cause danger for Arsenal's full-backs. Reading also have a decent striker force; Pavel Pogbrenyak doesn't start much, but is always a danger, while Adam Le Fondre is an excellent finisher. Jason Roberts is also a big aerial target, and Arsenal could expect to struggle at the back given Thomas Vermaelen's inability to deal with two strikers. Thus, stopping the supply line to the strikers will be crucial; Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs will have to stick tight.
It's at the back where Reading are weak, though, and Arsenal have to exploit that. They can give away a tremendous amount of space, which is good news for Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. If those two, along with Arsenal's wide players, play well, Arsenal should win.
Predicted lineup: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
Subs: Mannone, Jenkinson, Coquelin, Ramsey, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho
Predicted result: Reading 3-7 Arsenal