Saturday 18th April – 17:20 – Wembley Stadium
The first of the FA Cup semi-finals sees last year’s winners Arsenal face surprise package Reading, who have not reached this stage since 1927. The Royals have never won the competition, whereas the Gunners have the joint most trophies (11 with Manchester United). They faced Manchester United in the quarter-finals, having previously beaten Middlesbrough, Brighton and Hull in the competition this season. As for the league, Arsene Wenger’s side currently sit second following eight straight wins, beating Burnley 1-0 last time out. Despite their position, the FA Cup could be their only chance of silverware in 2014-15, as Chelsea are seven points clear with a game in hand. As for Reading, they have progressed to Wembley relatively unnoticed, having beaten fellow Championship sides Huddersfield, Cardiff and Derby away and then needing a replay to overcome Bradford in the quarter-finals. It’s not been plain sailing for Steve Clarke’s side in the Championship though. The Berkshire outfit lie 18th in the table eight points clear of the drop zone, having not won in the league since the middle of March. They lost to league leaders Bournemouth 1-0 in their last game. The cup is the only thing keeping their season alive, so fans are dreaming of a first ever final in this famous competition.
The Key Battle: Nathaniel Chalobah vs Mesut Ozil
If Reading are to avoid being overrun in midfield, Steve Clarke needs to play three in that area, and a definite for one of those spots is Chelsea loannee Nathaniel Chalobah.
Since joining in January, the 20 year old has been a regular in the Royals’ line-up, with his top division class showing through on many occasions.
He was the star man in the quarter-final replay against Bradford, and he will need to bring his composed, mature style to Wembley if Reading are to stop an onslaught of Arsenal attacks.
Mesut Ozil will be key to those moves forward, and his creativity is something the Championship side could find hard to deal with.
The German has hit form after the turn of the year, and has three goals and four assists in 11 league games since January 1st, plus one goal against Brighton on Arsenal’s way to Wembley.
- Pavel Pogrebnyak will be involved after Steve Clarke said he has recovered after overcoming a calf complaint.
- On-loan duo Nathan Ake and Kwesi Appiah are unavailable as they are cup-tied but fellow loanees Nathaniel Chalobah and Jamie Mackie can play.
- Anton Ferdinand and Jure Travner are ruled out, but Danny Williams could be fit to return.
- Midfielder Jack Wilshere, who played against Reading’s Under-21s on Monday, could make his first appearance after recovering from an ankle problem. However, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are still not fit.
- France defender Mathieu Debuchy may also be included in the squad again, having been out since January after needing shoulder surgery.
- Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Wojciech Szczesny will start in goal, ahead of David Ospina.
Reading wins = 0 / Arsenal wins = 9 / Draws = 0
Last Meeting: Arsenal 4-1 Reading (30th March 2013)
Arsenal maintained their push for a top-four finish with a comfortable victory that sent Reading bottom of the Premier League on goal difference in Nigel Adkins’ first game in charge of the Royals. Gervinho opened the scoring with a close-range finish from Santi Cazorla’s cross-come-shot as Arsenal dominated. The Spaniard himself then curled in after half-time before Olivier Giroud drilled a third just after the hour mark. Reading reduced the deficit through Hal Robson-Kanu’s header, but Mikel Arteta secured the points with a penalty after a foul on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Gunners had many more chances to increase their advantage, but the result was never in doubt.
Stat of the Match
Reading have only lost three of their last eight FA Cup meetings against teams from higher divisions (W4, D1) – although they are yet to face one this year.
Where can I watch it?
BBC One are showing the game live from Wembley with coverage beginning at 5:05pm, and kick-off is 15 minutes later.
My Prediction: Reading 1-3 Arsenal
However much I want to say a Reading win, even my heart is telling me we will get beaten under the Wembley arch. I’d like to think we will fight for it though and hopefully get on the scoresheet to give fans something to cheer about. Jamie Mackie could be the man to do this, but goals from Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud (2) will see Arsenal through to a second successive FA Cup final.