Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Reading

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, March 30
11:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Chris Foy
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Dean Richards
    • 4th Official: Mark Halsey
  • Reverse Fixture: Reading 2 - 5 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 0 Reading (April 19, 2008)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 11 Arsenal wins, no Reading wins, no draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-W-L-W
  • Reading's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-L
  • Weather: Mostly Cloudy, 6 C / 42 F
Only nine games to go this season.
Tick tock goes the...... calendar?
Don't you just hate international breaks? There we were, nicely winning big away games against teams that had troubled us at home, Bayern Munich and Swansea, when then suddenly, everyone goes away for almost two weeks, killing the momentum.

We're down to the final nine games of the season. Arsenal are four points back of Spurs with a game in hand (thank you, Dimitar Berbatov.) Of their remaining nine opponents, Arsenal won the reverse fixture against five of them, drawing two (Everton and Fulham, both of which saw Arsenal blowing a lead) and losing two (United and Norwich, oh God, remember losing that game? That was depressing.)

Okay, it seems doable, right? 27 more points up for grabs. Arsenal's odds at finishing Top Four (capitalized because "trophies" are proper nouns) are now higher than Spurs (funny what a few weeks can do.) 70 points on the season would give Arsenal a 94% chance of finishing in the Top Four, so that's, what, seven wins from nine? The odds are still better than 75% even with six wins from nine. Five wins, however, will almost certainly not be enough. And let's also keep an eye on Everton, okay?

So yes, Spurs' recent little tumble has made the numbers a little easier to digest. But you can't go into Saturday's game and take 20 points. It's three at a time. And against 19th place Reading at the Emirates, three points is a must. The Royals are fighting for their lives and they'll have the infusion of a new manager to help.

Let's get back to business, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Diaby (knee), Walcott (pelvis), Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (illness)

At least he's back on Twitter, so we can know when he's
making stir fry.
We'll start with the good news, in that Lukas Podolski (ankle) and Bacary Sagna (knee) will both be able to return from their respective injuries. Hooray for options!

On the flip side, Jack Wilshere will need another "two weeks" to rehab his ankle, as Arsene Wenger does not want to rush him back, given his history of injuries. I've still got my fingers crossed that he's not on the "Diaby timetable."

Speaking of Diaby, Arsene Wenger said on Thursday morning that he had "a little problem." By Thursday afternoon, it was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he's out nine months. I mean, what do you even say about that? He injured himself in training. It's a shame. That's all you can say. It's such a shame.

Kieran Gibbs has been sick with the flu, so I suspect Nacho Monreal, fresh off his assist against France and his goal against Swansea, will retain his place. Also, out-of-form Theo Walcott, as you know, picked up an injury in England training and will miss at least this match.

Predicted XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Reading Squad News

Out: Roberts (hip)
Doubts: Kebe (groin), Federici (ankle)

Reading will have Pavel Pogrebnyak available after he served a three match ban, but he hasn't played a match in five weeks and likely lacks match fitness.

In terms of injuries, the only player certainly missing out is Jason Roberts, who is out for the season after a hip operation. Jimmy Kebe (groin) and Adam Federici (ankle) are both doubts with their respective injuries. On the other hand, Danny Guthrie and Alex McCarthy are both back in training.

Current Form

Oh, wrong kind of form... Sorry, it's been a while.
Can we even talk about form? I feel like it's been a million years since Arsenal played and it's been even longer since the North London derby loss. Arsenal won their last two games on the road by 2-0 scorelines at Bayern Munich and Swansea. I vaguely recall them happening.

As for Reading; they have lost six straight across all competitions, and I guess, yes, that's the kind of thing that can get your manager sacked when you're in a relegation battle. Among those six, they lost at Old Trafford twice, each by a single goal. They lost games at Everton and Stoke. But, the real crushing blows were home losses in relegation six-pointers, including 3-0 to Wigan and 2-1 to Aston Villa. Reading enters the weekend seven points adrift from safety.

Reading have picked up only five points on their travels this season, drawing at QPR and Swansea and winning at Newcastle.

Match Facts

They should throw hats onto the pitch after hat tricks, like in
ice hockey. And then, they should have made Santi wear them.
Across all competitions, Arsenal have played Reading 11 times and won all 11, including two meetings at the Madejski earlier this year. In late October, the two sides met in an absolutely bonkers League Cup tie, which saw Reading go ahead 4-0, only to blow the lead and eventually lose 7-5 in extra time. During that extra time, Reading even allowed Marouane Chamakh to score twice. Yeah.

The sides met at the Madejski again in mid-December, when Arsenal were coming off their cup loss to Bradford City. Lukas Podolski and a Santi Cazorla hat trick put Arsenal ahead 4-0, but Reading scored twice in five minutes to cut the deficit in half after 71 minutes. Theo Walcott's 80th minute goal put the match to bed.

As for their other four league meetings: in 2006/07, Reading's first top flight season, Arsenal won 4-0 away and 2-1 at the Emirates. In 2007/08, Reading's last top flight season before this year, Arsenal won 3-1 away and 2-0 at the Emirates. The sides have also met in six cup ties won by Arsenal.

The Referee

"Woah, hey. Slow down there, sparky. I've got this."
I imagine Chris Foy is the kind of person that calls people
"sparky" on the pitch.
The referee is Merseyside-based Chris Foy. Arsenal have seen Foy three times this season and all three were at the Emirates. Those matches include the 0-0 season opening draw with Sunderland, the 7-3 win over Newcastle just before New Year's, and the 1-0 win over Stoke in February. Across those three matches, Foy did not book a single Arsenal player. Last season, Foy worked three Arsenal matches that all ended in draws.

As for Reading, Foy has taken charge of their 1-0 loss at West Brom in September, a 0-0 draw with Norwich in November, and a 4-0 win over Sheffield United in the FA Cup in January.

Foy found himself in the midst of some controversy two weeks ago in a match between Sunderland and Norwich, in which he sent off Canaries goalkeeper Mark Bunn for handling outside of the box after half an hour. Not long after, Foy gave Sunderland a penalty for another Norwich handball, which gave the Black Cats an equalizing goal, in what would go on to be a 1-1 draw. To be fair though, the linesman flagged for the penalty.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Manchester United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Newcastle United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Chelsea; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. West Bromwich Albion; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday: Wigan Athletic v. Norwich City; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Saturday (late): Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. Liverpool; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Fulham v. Queens Park Rangers; Craven Cottage, London