Arsenal welcome Reading to Emirates Stadium in the fourth round of the EFL Cup on Tuesday night - and Rob Kelly has previewed the game.
“It’s always tense against them and always passionate and you would expect that again on Tuesday, but I am confident that we will want to respond after our 0-0 on Saturday.” - Arsene Wenger
When the draw for the EFL Cup fourth round was made, there were more than a few wry smiles as Reading followed Arsenal out of the hat.
It is almost exactly four years to the day since that incredible, unforgettable encounter against the Royals in this competition, when the Gunners battled from four goals down to win 7-5.
While Arsene Wenger smiles broadly at the memory, he does not expect a repeat performance on Tuesday night. He would certainly not be happy if his side were to ship another five goals - especially after an impressive start to the season that has seen them concede just 10 times in 13 games.
|Arsenal: Xhaka (suspended), Cazorla (heel - doubt), Ramsey (hamstring), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee)Reading: Gunter (suspended)|
The Arsenal manager has been impressed by the Royals’ progress under former Manchester United man Jaap Staam, but is backing his side to get back to their fluid best after the frustrating 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough.
“[The 2012 game against Reading] was one of the craziest of my career because we were 4-0 down and finally won it 7-5,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“It’s always tense against them and always passionate and you would expect that again on Tuesday, but I am confident that we are focused and will want to respond after our 0-0 on Saturday.
“I felt that the focus of the team was there [against Middlesbrough], the desire was there but maybe we were not as fresh as we could have expected to be because we gave a lot against Ludogorets.
“We had a lot of possession but were not as creative as we are [normally], and not as fast with the combinations as we are used to. It means we have to find solutions to win these kinds of games even when they are very difficult and very tight.”
One to watch
After the 4-0 win against Nottingham Forest in the previous round of the EFL Cup, much of the attention was focused on Lucas after his first goals for the club.
The Spanish striker certainly deserved rich praise for his display, but so too did another, whose mature display slipped slightly under the radar.
Ainsley Naitland-Niles made his first Arsenal start at the City Ground, and delivered a performance of real promise at right-back.
Wenger has been impressed with the 19-year-old’s development since his return from a loan spell at Ipswich last season, and believes he has a bright future ahead of him.
“He’s an interesting prospect because he does not have an imposing frame, but he’s mobile, he’s quick and he’s sharp technically,” the manager said.
“He has a good eye, he can win the ball and he has the speed to fly into people and get the ball out of their feet. That’s a very interesting quality that you do not find often.
“He did extremely well at Nottingham Forest as a right-back, but maybe his best position is as a defensive midfielder at the moment.”
It is a sign of the times for Arsene Wenger that some of the managers he now faces used to be on the pitch lining up against his earliest Arsenal teams.
When Stam’s name was put to the boss, he immediately smiled. The Dutch centre half was a colossus at the heart of the Manchester United team that rivalled the Gunners between 1998 and 2001, before his surprise departure to Italy.
|Reading have lost all 13 of their previous meetings with Arsenal in all competitionsWe are unbeaten in our last 27 home League Cup games against sides from a lower division (W24 D3)|
Wenger was an admirer of Stam as a player, and he has been impressed at the impact he has made at Reading, in his first managerial appointment after leaving a coaching role at Ajax.
“Stam was a great player - at his best, he was a top-class player,” Wenger said. “He got injuries at the end of his career, but when he arrived at Man United he was a force and had a huge impact in England.
“The Dutch school has always created good coaches because they have a very positive style of play,” he said. “They want to build out from the back, they always play constructive football so I’m not surprised [he is doing well].
“Reading play a very technical game so it is important that we remain very focused to become a force at home, in the cup as well."
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