Thanks to First Great Western a long day awaits. Only they could reroute services around Reading Station on the day Reading are playing at our place and large numbers travelling from the west will face well over an additional hour in each direction. Grumble over. Blogs rock. You don’t get raw life like that in the Times now, do you?
As well as being a long day it has the potential to be about as good, or indeed as bad, as it gets. While we enjoy home advantage against Reading the two sides directly above us face tricky awaydays. In particular Tottenham face a stiff test of their nerve at Swansea where we won so impressively just a fortnight ago. Chelsea should prove too strong for Southampton, but let’s not forget the Saints have seen off both Manchester City and Liverpool by three goals to one in the last couple of months, and held us to a draw on New Years Day.
Enough of them. It is us we need to concentrate on. In a month where we have seen so little action we were anticipating players getting back to full fitness, but the injury hoodoo has returned with a bang. Jack Wilshere remains out beyond the projected Arsenal standard of three weeks, Theo Walcott has been sidelined by an injury picked up in training with England, and Kieran Gibbs is a doubt having been struck down by what Arsene described as flu. Then there is Abou…
My Twitter followers will know I have great sympathy for his situation and had intended to print tonight a much briefer assessment than that provided by Arseblog this morning, but very much along the same lines. If you haven’t seen it yet (and why not would be the obvious question?) then do click on the link. No words from me can add to what is there.
Now if all that sounds a little depressing we can restore spirits by considering who we can still put out against a Reading side reeling from the senseless loss of Brian McDermott while still looking to impress new manager Nigel Adkins, also sacked in an absurd fashion by Southampton. There is perhaps surprisingly competition for the goalkeeping berth and while Lukasz Fabianski has done little wrong since his shock recall I suspect there may be a return to the side for Wojciech Szczesny. Nothing more than a gut feel, that. We shall see.
In front of him Bacary Sagna is available again and the skipper will be keen to feature, but I would stick with the back four that defended so well at Swansea last time out. Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal are the form selections at present. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla are shoe-ins to start in midfield, with Tomas Rosicky or Aaron Ramsey taking the place of the unfortunate Diaby. The manager may opt for the younger man for his defensive qualities and bring on Tomas to run at tiring defenders in the last twenty minutes or so.
Further forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should start on the right, Olivier Giroud in the middle, and surely Lukas Podolski will get the nod over Gervinho on the left flank? That group of players should be strong enough against a Reading side who have lost their last five Premiership fixtures, although they did impress in a single goal reverse at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Their only away triumph of the season came at Newcastle in January, and of course we have already put twelve goals past them in two matches at the Mad Stad during the current campaign.
The ‘holic pound is based on the feeling that whilst the game will be both tense and close early on I hope we will stretch the visitors the further the game goes. 3-0 is available at 8/1 if you shop around, and that has the curse of my quid this time around.
Well Played Young Gunners
Well this unusual Good Friday provided our second taste of the U-19 side this week in the semi-final of the NextGen series. I joined the live broadcast with ten minutes remaining and given that we were trailing 3-1 at the time you would have thought that was curtains. An astonishing comeback was sealed with two goals in the final four minutes to take the match into extra-time. Unfortunately a late Chelsea strike denied us a place in Monday’s Final, but both sides deserve enormous credit for serving up a feast of attractive football on an absolute cow pasture of a pitch.
It was a real shame to see such a superb competition spoiled by the choice of venue. Organisers, sort it out please.
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