If football matches were decided by form then I’m sure this game will be an overwhelming victory for the FA Cup holders. Arsenal are in fantastic form; consecutively winning 8 straight Premier League games, in stark contrast the Royals enter their first FA Cup semi-final since 1927 after just two successes in their last 12 games in the league. But, this is the FA cup, a historic and majestic domestic competition that has seen a lot of upsets.
For the Reading fans, the league has been put behind them this weekend, despite being 8 points above the relegation zone with 4 games to play. Steve Clarke has continuously stated that the league is more important, but this weekend history can be created. In the pre-match conference Clarke said: “For the players it’s a chance to make history. Reading have never played in an FA Cup final. What an incentive.”
To achieve this incredible achievement the Reading players must play the “perfect game”. So what exactly is a perfect game when you play Arsenal?
The Perfect Game
For many Reading fans, Adam the Aussie, has been our star performer, which typifies our season. He has made some incredible saves and has either kept us in a game or saved us from embarrassment this season.
No doubt he will be tested throughout the game but the stage is set for Federici to show his quality.
First 15-20 minutes the Reading back line must be tight and organised along with the midfield in front to help out. If Reading are to win they must look at how Monaco beat the Gunners in the Champions League. Simple, but effective. It requires two defensively minded midfielders protecting the back four along with a winger playing very high up the pitch.
In Chalobah,Williams, Norwood and Karacan there is quality within the squad to breakdown Arsenal attacks and counter swiftly. Along with a winger left high up the pitch whether it is Robson-Kanu, Mackie or McCleary to receive a pass when Reading turnover possession. Clarke has told the media that everyone is fit so he has options to choose from and decide which players will be most efficient with different jobs.
For me, Chalobah, Norwood and Williams as a three in midfield start in front of the back four (Obita, Pearce, Hector, Gunter) with Mackie, Robson-Kanu and McCleary as attacking options. The Pog (Pavel Pogrebnyak) is a doubt after being left out against Bornemouth, so might be risky starting with him. Mackie has been in inspired form so he deserves the stage of Wembley.
Steve Clarke will know how he wants to play his idea of a perfect game against Arsenal and I’m sure it will include 3 in midfield to oppose the quality of Arsenals midfield. Every football fan knows Arsenal play the beautiful game and that their full backs at times act as wingers with the wide players such as Sanchez, Welbeck or Walcott drift inside. So when you or if you dispossess/intercept/breakdown Arsenal the idea is to counter quickly. The space is in the wide areas where either Bellerin or Gibbs are too high up the pitch as they were involved in the offensive play. Easing should notice this and set it as their main tactic to score.
Reading must express a passionate display along with self belief and a lot of character. No doubt the Arsenal squad has more quality than Clarke’s squad, but if Reading turn up with more fight and determination than Arsenal they could create history. Per Mertesacker has recently said that they can “handle the pressure” as they start the game as tournament favourites. Last year,Arsenal almost dropped out of the up at the same stage against Championship opposition. Wigan Athletic were 10 minutes away from back to back FA Cup Finals, before the World Cup winning German centre back scored to equalise.
Those 30,000 Reading fans want to see a proud performance
These 3 factors are an important part of the perfect game and I am excited to see how Reading line up against an array of talent at Wembley. Arsenal will dominate possession during spells of the game, but history can be made if Federici performs, the structure is solid and there is 100% from every player.