Arsenal under pressure for silverware
Jack Wilshere's comeback helped quieten dissent at Arsenal, but frustrations will return if Arsene Wenger's side fail to reach the quarter-finals of the League Cup at Reading today.
Wilshere had been scheduled to make his return after a 17-month injury absence at the Madejski Stadium but, having unexpectedly started in the 1-0 home victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, he will be rested.
Wenger said: "After a game like that, I will certainly not play him on Tuesday. Will I play him [at Manchester United] next week? I don't know."
Wilshere's withdrawal will be just one of several changes as Wenger rotates his squad.
Yet despite the fact the line-up will bear only a passing resemblance to the side that faced QPR, Arsenal's continuing seven-season trophy drought means that expectations remain high.
The League Cup was fifth in the list of five targets identified by Wenger at the club's rancorous annual general meeting last week, trailing behind the Premier League, the Champions League, qualifying for the Champions League and the FA Cup. But for a club that is desperate to regain the winning habit, no competition is treated lightly.
The match will provide Andrei Arshavin with the chance to press his claims for more action.
The Russian appeared as a late substitute against QPR, replacing Gervinho - who was injured 12 minutes after coming on - and played a decisive role in Mikel Arteta's winning goal.
Similarly, Theo Walcott, whose contract situation remains unresolved, will be anxious to impress on a rare start after finding himself sidelined in recent weeks.
The game is sure to be a special one for Reading manager Brian McDermott, as he will be facing the club that gave him a start in professional soccer. McDermott, 53, came through the youth ranks at Arsenal and made his debut for them in 1979 before becoming a regular in the 1980-81 season, playing up front with Alan Sunderland.
He left the Gunners in 1984 - having played 72 games - after falling out of favour, but bore no ill will to the north London club or its officials and fans.
"It was a good draw and I was pleased it's at our place as well," McDermott said. "That's a club that means an awful lot to me.
"Arsene Wenger has done an unbelievable job and it looks like they have a real opportunity to do well this season with the team he has got. This will be the first time I've faced them as a manager, although when I was chief scout under Steve Coppell, we played them in the Premier League."