By Chris Harris
If last season was a pleasant surprise for Reading, this season has been a slighty nasty shock.
Steve Coppell's team were a revelation in their maiden top-flight campaign, threatening to qualify for Europe before settling for a creditable eighth-place finish. They have been as solid as ever at the Madejski Stadium this term but Reading's away form has let them down, not least when they succumbed 7-4 in an incredible game at Portsmouth.
The departure of Steve Sidwell and a long-term injury to Glen
Little have not helped Reading's cause but they still have
Coppell, one of football's brightest managerial talents, at the
helm. With him in charge it seems unlikely that the Royals
will be flirting with relegation come May.
We spoke to Nick Ive of the Reading Evening Post for a Reading perspective ahead of Arsenal's visit to the Madejski on Monday night. Read on for Nick's views on the Royals' start to the season, the form of Dave Kitson, Sidwell's replacements in midfield and the memories of last season's home defeat against an inspired Gunners side.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They have struggled away from home even though they started really well with a 0-0 draw at Manchester United despite going down to 10 men. Ever since then it has been downhill. I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but Reading are certainly not playing as well as they did last season. It's a mixture of things - they miss Steve Sidwell, they miss the injured Glen Little and defensively they haven't been playing well individually. Ivar Ingimarsson was outstanding last season but hasn't played as well, nor has Nicky Shorey to a certain extent, and all those things have contributed to the away form. The work ethic is still there, it's one thing they will always have, but maybe teams are a bit more wise to Reading after last year.
"Steve Coppell still has the fans' backing, without a doubt. He's been the most successful manager in the club's history and if they survive that will be seen as a successful season. He hasn't spent much money, he hasn't been given £40-50 million so I don't think there's much criticism of the manager. I think his job is perfectly safe even if they get relegated. I think the vast majority of fans would want to keep him."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Dave Kitson and Kevin Doyle have played well in the last two months. Stephen Hunt will always work hard and give his all, and Ibrahima Sonko has just come back from injury. He's a big player for Reading and looked good against Newcastle the other week. He makes the defence look a bit stronger, more solid.
"Kitson has a good all-round game really. He scores goals, he can win stuff in the air and his hold-up play is very good, but he can also drop deep and make things happen. The only problem is that sometimes when he does play his team-mates want to knock it long to him and that can bypass the midfield. That can make it hard for Kitson."
"Coppell brought in Kalifa Cisse and Emerse Fae when Sidwell left. Fae was a club record buy at £2.5 million but has struggled to adapt to the English game so far. He was played out of position on the right of midfield and he's not really a winger, he's a central midfielder, but I think they are still trying to integrate him into the team. He certainly played a different role for Nantes in France, defensively not much was asked of him. At Reading he does have to defend and I think it's a bit alien to him at the moment. Cisse has been injured and has only just come back, but he looks more at home in the English game."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO
"There are a couple of notable players - James Henry and Alex Pearce, who are currently on loan at Bournemouth. Henry scored two on his debut, he's a right winger and is only 18, certainly one for the future. The same goes for Pearce, a centre half."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"I think Coppell has to improve the squad. There is money to spend and he's hinted he needs to bring in two or three players. Glen Little will be out for another three months so they might look to strengthen there. The same goes for the defence and the centre of midfield."
"Arsenal did catch Reading cold at the Madejski last season and Coppell was saying that their formation caught him out. Arsenal went with a 4-5-1 and he would have gone with a 4-5-1 to match them. I think Coppell will play that formation on Monday to try and keep it a little bit tighter. If he goes with a 4-4-2 then Arsenal's midfield will just be too strong for Reading's and it could be another 4-0.
"Hahnemann will play in goal. Duberry is struggling so the back four could be Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson and Shorey with Hunt on the left of midfield, Doyle on the right, Harper, Gunnarsson and possibly Cisse or Fae in the centre with Kitson up front. I don't think Lita will start on Monday."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Who has impressed me? It's Fabregas, isn't it? He is an exceptional player. They have made a great start, I didn't think they would do quite so well, but you have to hand it to Wenger."