This week Reading will make the 47-mile journey from the Madejski Stadium to the Emirates to face an Arsenal side that are currently enjoying a 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions. In that time they’ve scored a staggering 29 goals and conceded just six.
But despite being 9/1 outsiders to win this EFL Cup fourth round fixture, Jaap Stam’s Reading may just cause an upset, and here’s how they can do it.
Exploit Wenger’s lack of interest
Of all the trophies available to Arsene Wenger this season, it’s safe to say the EFL Cup is at the bottom of the list in terms of priority. If anything, the competition is somewhat of a hindrance to the French manager’s preparations for next weekend’s Premier League fixture against Sunderland.
For Reading, however, a solid cup run could provide great momentum for Stam’s men in the league, who are currently just a point off a play-off spot. They’ve already defeated three sides to get this far, fielding a relatively strong side including the likes of Tyler Blackett, Stephen Quinn and John Swift on each occasion.
And a quick look at Arsenal’s last three exits from the competition (twice in the fourth round, once in the third round) will tell you a win isn’t completely out of the question for the Royals.
Bully the Arsenal boys
Wenger has already spoken about how he feels his first-team have developed from boys into men in recent years, but it’s unlikely many of his key players will feature in this fixture.
While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mohamed Elneny and Kieran Gibbs all played a role in the Gunners’ 4-0 win against Nottingham Forest in the third round, all three are in or around the first-team now, meaning Wenger may further experiment with youth against the Berkshire outfit.
That means the likes of Quinn, Daniel Williams and Joey van den Berg can use their experience and dictate proceedings from the middle of the field.
Use Boro approach as a blueprint
Quite simply, if Middlesbrough would have taken their chances at the weekend against the Gunners, they’d have won the game.
For all of Arsenal’s possession (74.9 per cent, in fact), they hardly looked like scoring against a resilient Boro side who set themselves up to frustrate Arsenal’s front-line from the first whistle.
And Reading can learn a lot from that stellar performance from Aitor Karanka’s men.
Get as many men behind the ball when defending, and use pace on the wings when going forward, and Reading may just enjoy one of their finest nights of football in a long time.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing