By Richard Clarke
“To the 4,500 people up there at Bradford who didn’t see us qualify, I would like to say we are really sorry.
“They were absolutely amazing on the night but we have to put that game behind us and take care of what we can do something about. That’s the future.
“We have to focus on the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup - that’s what is in front of us. It’s a good opportunity to show we are strong and mentally prepared to achieve our ambition. That’s what our job is about.”
Those words belonged to Arsène Wenger ahead of the trip to Reading on Monday night.
When the Arsenal manager did his media work late last week, the defeat at Bradford was still painfully fresh. While it feels like an opportunity lost, the Capital One Cup cannot be allowed to cloud Arsenal’s season.
Even lifting the trophy would not overshadow failure in the other competitions - and you cannot say that for the Premier League or Champions League.
But think of it this way. Arsenal will be in third spot when the whistle blows at the DW Stadium on Saturday if they beat Reading and Wigan this week. Meanwhile they find out their opponents in the Champions League knockout round on Thursday morning.
Yes, Tottenham and Chelsea have the opportunity to overtake that league position by the end of the weekend and the draw could be tough as Wenger’s men did not win Group B in the first half of the season.
But, to break the rules of grammar for a moment, this is all not nothing.
Arsenal need to play to get Bradford out of their heads and they need victories, pure and simple, to present their plight more positively.
The questioning quarters have spotlighted pretty much everyone at the Club at some point in the Wenger era, it is the modern way. Yet the Frenchman’s tenure has seen Arsenal move inexorably in the direction of one of its oldest mottos – forward. Stumbles happen, the strong rediscover their balance at the crucial time.
When asked about supposed issues in his backroom the manager replied: “We are a united staff team.
“I believe it’s a good opportunity to show that we are strong inside the Club and let people talk.
“We are criticised when our results are not good - we have to take that on the chin.
“We are in a position where it’s down to us,” he went on. “I think we had a good game against West Brom. Of course the Capital One Cup game came then but our season will be judged on how well we do in the Premier League and in the Champions League, and after in the FA Cup.
“What is important now is to focus on that. We are close to coming back in the league. It will depend on the next two or three results.”
And the next pair of games are away to teams in the relegation places.
A more inquisitive glance at the Premier League table would suggest Arsenal are a very different team on their travels. Their eight games at Emirates Stadium have seen 28 goals, their eight away have involved exactly half that.
“It’s difficult to explain because we play the same system with the same attacking style,” said Wenger. “Maybe at home, the other teams attack a bit more against us than they do at the Emirates. It’s true that we’ve dropped points at home this season and we want to rectify it. Away from home, we want to continue the quality of our games and get the points.”
Reading went bottom of the Premier League over the weekend thanks to QPR’s victory over Fulham. Brian McDermott’s side have won only once this season in the Premier League and, of course, they lost 7-5 to Arsenal at the Madjeski Stadium last month after being 4-0 up inside 30 minutes.
“They had a quick start and they pushed us with four goals in 20 minutes - from 15 to 35,” he said. “Offensively they were very impressive on the night.
“It was all a bit off the cuff in that game and the Premier League is always a bit more structured so you expect less openings at the back and therefore it could be tighter. But we want to be on top of it and win the game.
“For me Reading are a team who deserve a lot of credit because they came up last year, in my opinion, surprisingly. They make it difficult for every team in every game, so we expect a battle. Our results are quite consistent and good away from home. But we had a good game against West Brom and it’s important to confirm that in our next away game.”
Reading manager McDermott cut his teeth as player at Highbury under Terry Neill in the 1980s. Wenger has been impressed by his rise through the coaching ranks at Reading.
“He’s done very well - especially to get them up last season,” said Wenger. “I think that was exceptional. They play positive football. He’s a manager who has a future.
“The Premier League is difficult. I think every year, the teams are closer to each other [in the race to get up], so every game is a cup final. But I believe Reading were always very close and he has done extremely well to put them up there.”
It has not been easy to be an Arsenal supporter over the past week. But the advantage of sport is that you can just dust yourself down and move on.
Bradford happened. It has been discussed, digested and apologised for.
While it should not be forgotten, it cannot be consciously remembered as a reminder of Arsenal’s season.
There is so much more to play for than that.
Reading: Roberts (doubt - hip), Robson-Kanu (knock), Morrison (ankle), Kébé (groin), Karacan (match fitness)
Arsenal: Walcott (doubt - calf), Koscielny (doubt - thigh), Santos (muscle), Fabianski (ankle), Diaby (thigh)
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