There are always pivotal moments in a season. If you’re doing well, you probably only need one, If the team isn’t performing up to the mark, you might get a few, but as each chance slips through your fingers, the mountain to climb, representing the next opportunity gets steeper and steeper. For both Arsenal and Reading, Saturday’s game is a case in point.
For Arsenal, currently just outside the all-important Champions’ League spots in fourth position, it’s a potential chance to haul back the gap on Tottenham and Chelsea above them. If things go the way of the Gunners, they could end the weekend tucked nicely into the group of three teams battling to secure that qualification spots. Chelsea, hardly in scintillating form at the moment, although on a slight upward curve at the moment, face a tricky assignment, away to a Southampton team still unsure of survival, whilst Tottenham have an even more difficult fixture in south Wales to against the Laudrup-inspired Swansea city. Both could drop points, opening the way for a Gunners victory to put them back in the hunt for what Wenger has described as the ‘fourth place trophy.’
Reading on the other hand require victory more for the chance of hanging on to the slim hope of survival than glory itself. The five point gap between the Berkshire team and safety is assuming cavernous proportions, and with games draining away, although this may not be their best chance of a victory to make a difference, it’s getting towards their last chance. The seemingly desperate measure of dismissing the unlucky Brian McDermott, without having a replacement lined up appears precipitous rather than adroit, and cannot have helped the morale of the club in general , or the team in particular, but it’s not an unusual card to play.
Looking at it logically, it’s difficult to see beyond an Arsenal victory. Anything else would turn the form book upside down. That said it wouldn’t be the first time that the Gunners have stumbled against supposedly lesser opposition. It’s a bit of a cliché, but in games like this, the first goal will be vital. If Arsenal score it, stress will fall away, and they could well run out comfortable winners. If on the other hand, it falls to Reading, a ‘backs to the wall’ display of grit could undermine Arsenal’s self-belief with every passing minute that they remain behind. Although I expect Arsenal to win, an upset result is not unthinkable, as someone once said “it’s a funny old game.”