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Arsenal, Reading clash in FA Cup semifinal mismatch

17 April 2015, 16:50

London - In the red corner is the team playing the best soccer in England, boasting an eight-match winning run and a record-tying 27 appearances in the FA Cup semifinals.

In the blue corner is a second-tier team, out of form and appearing at a level it hasn't competed in nearly a century.

On the face of it, the FA Cup semifinal match between Arsenal and Reading on Saturday should be one of the biggest mismatches seen at this stage of the famous competition. Indeed, Reading has lost all 12 of its matches against Arsenal stretching back to 1935.

But, as has been shown so many times down the years, reputations count for nothing in the FA Cup.

"We're looking to play the perfect game. If we can do that, we can have a chance," Reading manager Steve Clarke said. "For the players, it's a chance to make history."

While Reading has only reached the semifinals once — in 1927 — and hasn't competed in the final before, Arsenal is a regular. The team was there last year, beating Hull 3-2 after extra time to capture the trophy for the 11th time — equaling Manchester's United's record haul.

Also read: Arsenal won't be caught napping by Reading, says Wenger

Some British bookmakers are making Arsenal the big favorite — no surprise considering Arsenal's current form, which has lifted it into second place in the Premier League and is making first-place Chelsea work hard to clinch the title.

Striker Olivier Giroud can't stop scoring. Forwards Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are back in form. Reading appears to have caught Arsenal just at the wrong time.

"I always hope to get the best out of my team," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, "but no manager in the world if he is serious can predict a run like this."

Reading, which was last in the Premier League in 2013, is without a win in five matches and has dropped to 18th in the League Championship. With no prospect of reaching the playoffs, its league campaign will finish on May 2 — meaning the team from just outside London will have to wait almost a month to play the FA Cup final on May 30 if it upsets Arsenal.

"Four weeks?" Clarke said. "I'll probably need to go on holiday for two of those and then bring the team back in."

The other semifinal match between Liverpool and Aston Villa on Sunday promises to be closer, which is testament to Villa's improvement under manager Tim Sherwood since he replaced Paul Lambert.

Central to that improvement is the form of striker Christian Benteke, who has responded to the more direct style of Sherwood by scoring eight goals in his last six games. The Belgium international had only scored three times in the first six months of the season.

"It is not just about scoring," Benteke said. "I am happy to score but I am also happy because now I play how I want to play."

The FA Cup is a respite from Villa's attempts to pull clear of relegation trouble. A 1-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday moved Villa six points above the bottom three with five games left.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has to decide whether to hand a recall to captain Steven Gerrard, who has played 27 minutes in the last two months because of injury and then his sending-off against Manchester United in his second game back.

Gerrard has completed his three-game ban and could help Liverpool reach the final on May 30, which would mark his last game for the club — on his 35th birthday — before moving to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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- AP


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