By Chris Harris
The Madejski Stadium is an unfamiliar ground to Arsenal but they can expect to see some familiar faces on Sunday. Arsène Wenger will be reunited with former Gunners Steven Sidwell, John Halls, James Harper and Graham Stack when he takes his team to Berkshire for their first Premiership clash with Reading.
Steve Coppell's side romped to the Championship title last season and have made a good fist of their first top-flight campaign. Reading are sitting proudly in the top half of the table and have ruffled a few luxurious feathers - Manchester United were held at the Madejski and Chelsea needed a deflected free kick to nick all three points last weekend.
All of which points to a difficult afternoon for Arsenal. We spoke to Nick Ive of the Reading Evening Post about the Royals' solid start to life in the Premiership, the ex-Arsenal contingent, the qualities of Coppell and the tactics he is likely to employ this weekend.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They have done exceptionally well, they've exceeded expectations so far. When they went 2-0 down against Middlesbrough on the opening day a lot of people were thinking it could be a long hard season but they came back and won 3-2. They lost the next two but have been on a good run since then. They beat Manchester City and Sheffield United, drew with Manchester United and lost 1-0 to Chelsea. It was a deflected winner and Reading were unlucky to lose. At the start of the season I thought they would be among half a dozen teams who could be in trouble but now they could finish as high as mid-table. They were going into the unknown, the only one with significant Premiership experience was John Oster, and he can't get in the Reading team. They have done far better than most people expected."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Steve Coppell has been unbelievable. I did an interview with him in pre-season and he reckons he would have been sacked if Reading had not gone up. His record speaks for itself though, he's taken Reading into the Premiership for the first time in their history. Coppell is respected because of the way he goes about things. He doesn't shoot his mouth off, he doesn't get carried away, he's a calming influence."
"The only significant change is Seol on the right, he has scored a couple of important goals. It's a settled team and they have grown together. Their style of play suits the Premiership because they can counter-attack quickly. The players have stepped up and the likes of Sonko and Sidwell give the team a strong spine."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO...
"Shane Long is one to watch. He's a 19-year-old striker and has been banging in the goals for the reserves. He has six in five games at that level. He scored a few goals for the first team last season and has a lot of potential. He came from Cork City with Kevin Doyle and while Doyle has made his mark Shane is still learning. I think we'll hear a lot about him in the next year or two, he certainly has a big future."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"The one concern is Reading's overall strength in depth. If they pick up a couple of key injuries and the odd suspension they they could start to struggle. Dave Kitson has been out since doing his knee on the opening day of the season and, although Reading have done alright, I think they miss him. Graeme Murty, the skipper, is out of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Andre Bikey is suspended after getting a red card against Chelsea."
"They play a 4-4-2 but against Chelsea they adopted a 4-4-1-1 formation with Doyle dropping deep to help the midfield. I wouldn't be surprised if they did the same against Arsenal, but Coppell's approach tends to be an attacking 4-4-2. They play with two wingers and try to get the full backs going forward. I think they have to take certain things into account and be slightly conservative against the top teams but they try to attack if they can."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"There is a strong ex-Arsenal connection at Reading because Sidwell, James Harper, Graham Stack and John Halls were all at Highbury. I spoke to Sidwell and he is really looking forward to Sunday's game. Sidwell has done really well, he was one of the better players outside the Premiership. There were doubts over whether he could make the step up but he's proved himself at this level. He pops up in the box and scores the odd goal, he never shirks a tackle and has an excellent workrate."