Monday 22 January 2018

Wenger demands fight for cup final spots as Royals rally round Federici

Reading 1-2 Arsenal (after extra-time)

Reading’s Adam Federici scrambles for the ball in vain
Reading’s Adam Federici scrambles for the ball in vain

Glenn Moore

Much of the FA Cup's magic lies in its history, but the protagonists are always looking forward. Within minutes of Saturday's semi-final, Arsene Wenger was pondering the final, his defeated counterpart, Steve Clarke, thinking of next season.

For Arsenal and Wenger, who left out enough fine players to make a decent starting XI, the big issue will be team selection. "You want everybody to be happy, but leaving people out is part of the job," he said. "The most important part is to get results, for the fans and everybody involved with the club. The majority dominates the minority."

Wenger, who could have Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available again come the decider added: "They all want to play in the final; it is better than any doctor."

Not everyone who started at Wembley made a case for doing so next month. Arsenal dominated possession, but struggled to penetrate a well-organised Reading. Danny Welbeck, who often flourishes at Wembley for England, was stifled, while Aaron Ramsey seemed lost on the wing. Arsenal were more threatening when he moved inside and Olivier Giroud led the attack, but they still needed a horrendous error by the Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici to progress.

Federici was inconsolable, but Clarke and his players stood by him.

"He's one of the best goalkeepers around and every goalkeeper makes a mistake," said Reading captain Jem Karacan. "He was probably man of the match up to that point. He's been unbelievable this season. Nobody will blame him; we win together and lose together."

"The life of a goalkeeper is that when you make the big, big mistake, everyone sees it," said Clarke, "and it's normally a goal because you are the last man."

A sympathetic Wenger said: "A goalkeeper that doesn't make mistakes doesn't exist. You can tell him that (defeat) was not only down to him, but time helps better than any manager.

"Once it is done, it's done. You have to live with that. Some carry that their whole life and some recover quickly and forget about it. He should be comforted about the fact he had a great game."

Federici is one of eight first-team players out of contract at the end of the campaign and whose future at Reading is uncertain. The club will still receive a parachute payment next season of around £9m, but after a promotion, a relegation, three managers and three owners since spring 2012, a clear-out seems likely.

"There is a lot of work to be done in the summer," said Clarke, who arrived in December. "You see the support. You see the catchment area. You see the level of performance from the team. It shows you (the Premier League) is possible. For some reason, they have lost their way a little bit this season, but the size of the club, the academy, the facilities, they are all Premier League. It's my job to ensure we are competitive at the top end of the Championship next year."

A year ago, another Championship club with recent top-flight experience, Wigan Athletic, pushed Arsenal even closer in the semi-final, going to penalties, but 12 months on they look bound for League One. Clarke wants to avoid a similar fate.

"The first season down after relegation is crucial," he said. "If you are going to keep your squad together then you have to bounce back." (© Independent News Service)

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