Arsene Wenger's future at stake as Arsenal take on Reading
Which Arsenal team will show up tonight: the one with fighting spirit, or the weak-willed losers?
ARSENAL return to action tonight for the first time since their humiliation at the hands of Bradford City on 11 December. Sitting a lowly eighth in the Premier League table, they play Reading away, and if ever Arsene Wenger needed his team to perform for him it is now.
The Gunners’ manager faces the biggest crisis of his Arsenal career. Another defeat will lead to direct and widespread calls for his head, with fans well aware of the gossip that former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is interested in taking on the Arsenal squad.
Arsenal do not have a home game until Boxing Day, when they face Wenger's nemesis, Sam Allardyce, and his West Ham side. Anything less than strong performances against Reading tonight and Wigan at the weekend will mean that game has a massive significance that few would have predicted back in August.
Discontent has been bubbling at Arsenal for some time. There have been calls for the head of chief executive Ivan Gazidis, blamed by many for the high ticket prices and lack of silverware. There were chants of 'We want our Arsenal back' at Old Trafford as the Gunners meekly rolled over for the their old foes Manchester United.
Ahead of the Swansea game, the 'Black Scarf Movement' organised a protest against the boardroom, and when Arsenal lost to the Welsh side the anger inside the Emirates was palpable. Boos rained down on Wenger and his defeated players.
Victory over West Brom placated some, but that win was sandwiched between defeats to Olympiakos and, humiliatingly, Bradford.
Tonight's game should give a clear indication of where Arsenal are mentally. Twice already this season the Gunners have proved they can find their fighting spirit. Last month they came from behind against Spurs to beat their local rivals 5-2 in a game that they simply could not afford to lose.
And back in October, against the same opponents they face tonight, the Gunners mounted one of the all-time great comebacks in the League Cup. Having gone down 4-0, they battled back to win an extraordinary contest 7-5 in extra time.
That night at the Madejski there were two Arsenals. The one that fell 4-0 behind and the one that came roaring back. Both have been in evidence since then. Tonight Gunners fans will want to discover which is the real Arsenal - and whether Wenger still has it in him to inspire the team.