Reading vs Arsenal 6:20pm
Aston Villa vs Liverpool 4pm
LONDON – Championship strugglers Reading will have to produce one of the great FA Cup upsets to beat holders Arsenal in their semifinal at Wembley on Saturday and reach the final for the first time.
Arsenal, winners of 16 of their last 18 matches in all competitions and victorious over Reading in all 12 competitive meetings, will be overwhelming favourites to face Liverpool or Aston Villa in an all-Premier League final on May 30.
Arsenal’s run of eight successive wins, which has surprised even manager Arsene Wenger, has opened up an outside chance of the League and Cup double as they have climbed to second in the table, albeit still seven points behind Chelsea.
About the only thing in Reading’s favour is the FA Cup’s enduring capacity to deliver the most unlikely upsets, as illustrated by third tier Bradford City’s stunning 4-2 fourth-round win at Chelsea in January after trailing 2-0.
Reading’s task is just as daunting as Steve Clarke’s men have dropped to 18th in the second tier Championship and are without a win in their last five league matches.
Arsenal not only have form on their side but history and tradition. This will be their record-equalling 27th semifinal, while it is Reading’s first since their sole appearance in the last four 88 years ago.
The nearest Reading ever came to beating the Gunners was in an amazing League Cup tie in October 2012 when Arsenal came from 4-0 down to make it 4-4 with two goals in the last two minutes and went on to win 7-5 after extra time.
The history between Liverpool and Aston Villa is far more complex, stretching back over 188 matches to 1894 with Liverpool winning almost half their games and Villa only victorious in one of their eight FA Cup meetings.
All of Liverpool’s seven FA Cup triumphs have come since the last of Villa’s successes in 1957, but Sunday’s semi looks a closer call than it did a few weeks ago.
Liverpool’s league aspirations were derailed by recent successive defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal while the off-field antics of striker Raheem Sterling, videoed using laughing gas and pictured with a shisha pipe, cannot have helped manager Brendan Rodgers’ peace of mind either.
In contrast, Villa have been rejuvenated since Tim Sherwood took over as manager from Paul Lambert in February and, although they are still in a relegation fight, their 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last week was self-assured and well-deserved.
Christian Benteke has rediscovered his scoring form with eight goals in six games since Sherwood arrived, and although Liverpool are fifth and still chasing a Champions League place, they will have to play well to book a second final appearance in four seasons.