Reading v Arsenal, 8pm
17 December ~ You have to hand it to Sky. When they first picked the game between Reading and Arsenal to show live it looked to have nothing going for it in terms of general interest. Now it offers two perspectives on crisis. Arsenal are having yet another after dropping out of the League Cup at Bradford City, the best chance of ending their long trophy drought. Gunners fans must have thought their name was at least pencilled on it after their 7-5 win at the Madejski in the last round but now it's back to the gruel of the Champions League.
There can be no better sense of comfort for Arsenal than another game against Reading. They've won the previous ten dating back to 1935. It took Reading 77 years even to take the lead in any match between the two then, within half an hour, the Royals were four up – before losing after extra time. The tie was like a horror cartoon version of the Royals' whole season so far: brave attacking, get a lead, lose midfield, crumble under pressure, concede late, then when faced with an honourable draw attack madly and lose.
If Arsenal feel they've got problems what with being seventh and in the knockout stages of the Champions League there's a few down at the Madejski who might happily swap places. Reading are weakened by injury – Alex McCarthy, Jem Karacan and Jimmy Kébé are all out for long periods – and what might loosely be termed "disaffection". Danny Guthrie, who has been exiled from the team for some time, was invited to travel to Sunderland last Monday but declined, being not of the right frame of mind. Neither Jason Roberts nor Pavel Pogrebnyak took the field for that game either, leaving Reading with two diminutive strikers and looking at their biggest defeat of the season, 3-0.
As a result of injuries and the failure to get new and expensive recruits on the pitch and firing Reading face the unusual situation of being weaker than last season's promoted side, despite "strengthening" the squad. With only one league win, a six-point gap to safety and having just lost four games to relegation rivals Royals fans are residing in a pre-January lull wondering what happens next. Some are happy to accept the inevitable fate of being a yo-yo club while others want the new owners to find a new manager and throw new money at the problem. Few expect miracles now but a first point against Arsenal, who were last relegated exactly 100 years ago, would be a start. Roger Titford