Arsenal return to Reading tomorrow for the first time in twenty years and pleasant surroundings the Madejski are compared to the peasant surroundings that was Elm Park. It has been a turbulent week for the hosts following the visit of Chelsea, a case of welcome to the bizarre world of Jose Mourinho. Initially, for once Chelsea had garnered all of the sympathy – Cech’s injury is horrific – but by the end of the week, Mourinho had successfully turned most of the media opinion against the club (not the player though) with distortion and blatant lies. The statement he made to the media about the delay in the calling of an ambulance backfired spectacularly when it emerged that the Chelsea medical staff did not ask for one to be called immediately, a curious enough decision on its own given the apparent seriousness of his injury, and that they did not want to take Cech around the pitch on a stretcher, understandably so. The real own goal came the following day when it emerged that the medical facilities at Stamford Bridge leave a lot to be desired, presumably as it is not a money-making exercise upgrading them was low on the list of priorities. Steve Coppell had until yesterday maintained a dignified defence of his players but seemed to be suffering from the same delusory effects as Mourinho when he commented that “you see worse incidents every week” which is just to bizarre to comment on.
As for the Hunt challenge, the only thing I will say is that I do not believe he intended to injure Cech. It was more of a letting the keeper know that they were around, as it seemed to me that the ball was not there to be won, it being under the keepers control. In my opinion, Hunt could have comfortably hurdled Cech to avoid the collison. Sonko on the other hand, was intent on putting Cudicini under pressure when jumping without looking at the ball as the cross came in. I would have said that he was lucky to not receive a yellow card (and would have seen a red given an earlier booking) whilst both players are fortunate that the referee and the FA deemed the incidents as dealt with at the time and that no further action is deemed necessary. It will be interesting to see whether the last match has any psychological effect on their forthcoming matches. Any repeat incidents could see the club gain an unwanted reputation akin to the one that Blackburn have.
Onto tomorrow though, Reading will be more obdurate opponents than either Watford or Sheffield United were. Of the three, they appear to be the ones with the potential to stay up, having a strong team ethic but a bit more to their play than the directness of their promoted counterparts. Having played Manchester United and Chelsea in their last two home games, they have certainly been dealt a difficult run which has probably so far garnered them one more point than they would have realistically expected. It has been interesting reading the media stories about how unlucky they were in their two previous home games. Well, I would accept that they were unlucky in that they hit the post in both games but looking at the stats in the cold light of day, it is impossible to believe that they should have got anything as against United they managed just two shots on goal all game whilst their opponents had sixteen, Chelsea had a similar dominance that should have been rewarded by more goals. What this is indicating though is that at home at least, Reading are not going to roll over and concede a hatful. It will mean that the Arsenal defence will need to concentrate from the first to the last minute if goals are to be a scarce resource.
Team news from the Arsenal camp is that they will be unchanged in squad terms. As for the starting XI, I would not be surprised to see Adebayour recalled given that AW may be expecting perhaps a more physical clash than he may done prior to last week. However, to do so would lose the pace that van Persie brings on the counter-attack (although in fairness the Togan is no slouch either) and it seems that RvP is the preferred choice for away games as a partner for Henry. The only other possible change could be the introduction of Clichy but my own feeling is that he is still probably two or so games away from a starting place. I expect the line-up to be:
Lehmann; Hoyte, Toure, Djourou, Gallas; Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Rosicky; van Persie, Henry
which given my recent predictions on line-ups means Clichy and Adebayour will start ahead of Djourou and van Persie. As for a result, the match is similar to that of Wigan last season when Arsenal visited them as they were on the crest of a wave and won by the odd goal in five. I think tomorrow will be similar with Arsenal running out 2 – 1 winners or possibly 2 – 0. Apparently if a win is achieved, this will be first time since the start of the forty-nine match run that Arsenal will have won five games on the bounce which would be a nice turnaround from the opening few games of this season.