It's FA Cup semi final day! It feels like only yesterday when I was meeting up with @SuburbanGooner to watch us edge through an emotionally draining match at Wembley against Wigan. 12 months on and the health of the team is very different today. Against Wigan we stumbled all over the place unable to get our balance as Wigan took a surprise lead. Confidence was low, the atmosphere at Wembley that day was horrible and it was about to get much worse until Per Mertesacker grabbed the equaliser. The pressure released from both players and fans alike was obvious and we had enough quality and nerve to overcome the northerners.
Eight Premier League wins on the spin means that we are unlikely to witness the stumbling punch drunk team at this stage last season but hopefully a confident aggressive performance. It was something that Arsène said in his press conference yesterday.
"Last year we went to penalties against Wigan, we have learned from that and I think the urgency level will be quite high in our team"
That for me has been the greatest difference in this second half of the season. We start games quickly and put pressure on the opposition from the off rather than sitting back which I suppose is a consequence of a change of approach. That approach was very much evident against Liverpool only a few weeks ago. That is how I hope we start this afternoon, by forcing Reading to rush their football and win the ball from them in dangerous areas. Cliché it may be but winning the fight first and then allowing our superior quality to do the business should be the order of the day, it is this approach that has served us so well in recent times.
So only Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta are unavailable for the match day squad, I bet Arsène doesn't know what to do with himself. It's a difficult one for sure because a lot of players have not played many games of late and the manager needs to give players games when he can. The team that beat Liverpool and Burnley are in great form and there and we no longer have to play Saturday > Tuesday for example but at the same time we need to be fresh for some big games we have coming up.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the same line up once more as he wants to keep the momentum and cohesion going but I wouldn't be surprised to see Kieran Gibbs come into the team for example due to his attacking qualities. That in itself could allow Arsène to bring back Mathieu Debuchy for the more defensive balance on the other side similar to how we have Monreal and Bellerin but just the other way around.
The only other section question marks I see could be choosing three between Ramsey, Cazorla, Welbeck and Giroud. Aaron Ramsey on the right of the attack in the last two games has made perfect sense in my opinion. This is a game where we could use another attacking player rather than Aaron's stability, but Ramsey has been in very good form and has contributed to goals in our last few games. But the good news is that we have a squad strong enough that whatever the manager selects to start the game, we should have a pretty exciting team capable of getting to our second consecutive FA Cup final.
It's also going to be tough on those who are not even able to make the squad, one suspects that if Gabriel is back then Calum Chambers may well find himself disappointed today. One player who won't be disappointed at kick off will be Wojciech Szczesny. The pole is now the cup keeper and will start today. The hope from our perspective is that he doesn't get much of a chance to show how good he is as we'd much rather a nice and quiet day from him and our centre backs.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
I have used pretty much the same team but I actually think we'll see a change of two, not entirely sure where but as mentioned above, we should have too much for Reading regardless as long as (to use a Wengerism) we turn up with the right performance on the day.
Reading have not won in their last 5 matches, scoring only 4 in the process. They are 18th in the Championship struggling to find consistency so it is difficult for me not to feel somewhat confident about this one to be honest. It's the players job to be professional and not let complacency get in the way, luckily that is not my concern. Worth pointing out that I was similarly confident before Wigan last season even if the form was very different.
Wouldn't it be nice if we did things the easy way today? Scoring early, controlling the game, creating chances and picking them off before the hour and then allowing a chance to rest our best players before Chelsea. But this is the Arsenal and we usually have our own script that we tend to stick to.
Just to continue the fate tempting, who do you want to make the final from the other semi final? A chance revenue the Michael Owen final or Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa? Pushing my luck? ok, fair enough.
Let us just do what we need to do, if we approach the game how we have in our last two in particular then we will have a very good chance of winning. Fingers crossed that is the Arsenal we get today.
I'm out watching the game today so there is unlikely to be any post match stuff on the blog until tomorrow so enjoy the game and your day.