FA Cup semi-finals preview

Arsenal and Liverpool will be confident of setting up a fourth FA Cup Final meeting when they face Reading and Aston Villa, respectively, in the semi-finals at Wembley at the weekend.

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Reading will be firmly in the underdog role when they take on Arsenal in the first semi-final in what will seem like Rocky coming up against Apollo Creed for the first time. Reading, though, will be hoping for a different outcome from that fight when it was the favourite and title holder who actually won. It therefore promises to be a nervy wait for the semi-finals. But if you want to experience in advance the thrill of being that underdog and knocking out the champion, we have got the perfect
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As we have said, it will be an anxious wait for the semi-finals. So, let’s look ahead. Not only is it the case that Reading are a Championship club coming up against the second-placed team in the Premier League, but they have also lost all 12 previous meetings with Arsenal.

In the 2012/13 season when they last met, Arsenal scored 16 goals in three games, including a thrilling 7-5 victory at Reading in the League Cup. In the FA Cup, they have played each other three times and they have all ended in Arsenal away wins.

Arsenal have already shown so far this season in the FA Cup that they have no fear of the underdog after beating Championship sides Brighton and Middlesbrough in rounds four and five, respectively. Their FA Cup run started with a victory over Hull City in a repeat of last season’s final. Last year, Aaron Ramsey’s goal in extra-time saw Arsenal come from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and claim their first trophy since beating Manchester United on penalties in the 2005 FA Cup Final. It was United who were Arsenal’s quarter-final opponents and former Red Devils striker Danny Welbeck scored the goal which sent Arsene Wenger’s side into the semi-finals.

Reading, meanwhile, have not faced Premier League opposition this season after winning at fellow Championship clubs Huddersfield, Cardiff and Derby before beating Bradford in a replay in the quarter-finals. With Reading 18th in the Championship, you cannot see an upset being caused.

It would also be a surprise if Aston Villa beat Liverpool in the other semi-final on Sunday as the underdogs seek only a second FA Cup final appearance since 1957. Their last came in 2000 in the last final at the old Wembley when Villa lost 1-0 to Chelsea.

Villa have shown signs of improvement since Tim Sherwood took charge as manager, and they did win 1-0 at Anfield in the Premier League earlier this season. In the FA Cup, though, Villa’s only win over Liverpool came way back in 1897 when they won 3-0 in the semi-finals before beating Everton 3-2 in the final.

Liverpool have won the subsequent six FA Cup meetings between the two clubs, including a 3-0 success in the semi-finals in 1996. Liverpool went on to lose 1-0 to Manchester United in the final when their squad famously turned up wearing white suits. You can be sure there will be no repeat of that attire if Liverpool make it through again.

It would also be a fitting farewell for Steven Gerrard as the captain’s birthday falls on the date of the FA Cup Final – May 30. Will the footballing fates align to let Gerrard make his last appearance for Liverpool in the FA Cup Final?

You would expect so, and you would also expect them to be facing Arsenal, who they beat 2-1 in the 2001 FA Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium.

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