March 29, 2013

The international break has come and gone and the squad is digging in for the final run-in. There are no more distractions and no more weekends off for the next eight weeks. We don’t need any reminders of where we sit in the table or that each and every game is a must-win from here on out.

My feelings on the timing of the break are mixed. On one hand, we seem to have hit our stride in the week prior. But then again, a little time off just before a pretty intense run of games can't hurt, right?

Unless of course they got hurt while on international duty. Like Theo Walcott did. Or unless they suffer a season ending injury during training. Like About Diaby did.

Theo picked up a groin injury while on England duty and missed the two World Cup qualifiers.  There is no firm word on when he'll be back, but he's certainly out for at least this weekend and possibly next. 

As for Diaby, his horrible luck continued when he tore the ACL in his left knee in training on Wednesday. This latest blow comes just after a couple of impressive performances against Bayern and Swansea. It means the Frenchman will likely miss around nine months. You can only hope that the 26-year-old can bounce back from yet another long-term injury and return to the squad in January or February of next season. Best wishes Abou.

Fortunately, it seems everyone else came back from the break without any knocks or niggles. The mix of who played and who sat also had a nice balance. It almost seemed as though the national team managers weren't in on a conspiracy to hurt us! The first batch of games saw three Gunners score, and the second match day saw some solid performances from a number of Arsenal players – as well as a fair amount of guys getting a rest.

If you are keeping score at home: no Jack, Abou or Theo. And Kieran Gibbs may miss out after being sick in bed all week. But Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski are available for selection so the manager should be able to put together a pretty strong line-up on Saturday.

It's Reading at home on Saturday which also provides a mixed bag for making predictions. Arsenal have not had many problems scoring against them this season – 12 goals in two games – and the Royals have dropped five straight in the league. They also sit at the bottom of the table, tied with QPR on points and goal difference.

But we've seen before that teams in the relegation zone this time of year can be like caged wild animals: it seems like they can’t possibly be a threat and then they bite your arm off and score a late winner. Add to that, Reading have a new manager – former Southampton boss Nigel Adkins – and you have another scenario where a team that had been in the doldrums come out and surprise everyone. And remember that Adkins was in charge of Southampton when they nearly beat us on New Year's Day. Santi Cazorla even feels that this opposition could be more difficult than Swansea.

The big question for Arsenal: can we continue that momentum we built before the break? Tomas Rosicky thinks so, and he also fully expects Arsernal to grab a top-four place to ensure Champions League football next season. But don’t think anyone is expecting an easy game.

Arsenal even have two wild cards up their sleeve right now: Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny. Both have been relegated to the bench in recent games – and both very much want to fight to win back their place on the team. A hungry central defender and an experienced goalkeeper waiting in the wings are not a bad thing to have at your disposal this time of year.

 Lastly, just a quick mention of Arsenal's summer plans. Asia Tour 2013 is well in the planning stages and another date has been officially announced. Arsenal will play against Nagoya Grampus – Arsène Wenger's old club – in Japan on July 22. A visit to Jakarta has already been set up and there have also been discussions about a possible trip to Vietnam. Stay tuned to for full details as they emerge.

But before you pack for Asia, we still have a lot of work to do. We've got nine games left and nine points separate fifth and second place. There's a good run left in this Arsenal team. And it starts tomorrow at the Emirates.

Come on you Gunners!

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Kevin Mooney 29 Mar 2013