Fired-up Murty will relish taking aim at Gunners

Reading's captain targets a win double with an upset over the leaders then glory for Scotland
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It is a slightly surreal juxtaposition of practice areas. From the distance, you can just hear the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire from the adjacent Arborfield Garrison. At Reading's training ground, the only volleys are those that the first team attempt to execute from a succession of right-wing crosses. The banter flows, mercilessly so, when someone completely miskicks, as they do, even with their only "opponents" cut-out metal figures strategically placed.

Hopefully, the Army's aim is more sure. The players can laugh now. Tomorrow night at the Madejski Stadium, it will not be so humorous; not when the opposition becomes daunting reality. Graeme Murty, the Reading captain and Scotland international, readily acknowledges the threat that the League leaders will provide.

"I'm a Liverpool fan, but I'd pay to watch Arsenal," he concedes. "The shapes they create and their movement off the ball are incredible. We know it's going to be horrendous to defend against. But our attitude and focus has been all week that they can go and play their lovely fabulous foreign football somewhere else. Hopefully we'll throw a spanner in the works by frustrating them and trying to play a bit of our football as well."

Defiant words, given that Arsène Wenger's team are undefeated this season and, in last year's corresponding fixture, swiftly disabused the Royals of any notion of maintaining parity. "We had a fantastic plan last season to frustrate them, and it lasted 63 seconds [before Thierry Henry scored]," Murty recalls ruefully. It ended 4-0. "It's vital that we don't give them that kind of leg-up into the game."

So, how precisely do you disrupt the fluidity of Wenger's team? Basically, according to the defender, itis about "concentratingon going with runners, watching one-twos".

Did he have a particular runner in mind? Murty takes the point. "Hleb, Clichy, Rosicky, Fabregas, Adebayor... all of them, because they all rotate, and if it's not one of them, Kolo Touré will come and do a massive overlap from the back." It is suggested to the right-back that the Gunners are the closest thing in club football to Brazil. "It's a compliment that's just about bang on, to be honest," he says. "The exuberance they play with is second to none. But more than anything it's the pace with which they pass the ball which catches the eye. We know when we've got the ball we've got to treat it like gold dust."

Five days later, Murty will be at Hampden to witness Scotland's most climactic day for years, with victory over the world champions, Italy, yielding a place in the European Championship finals. Murty is philosophical at not being named in Alex McLeish's squad.

"Just at the time when Scotland were at their highest point, I drop myself into the team [away in Georgia] and we get beat. But the missus and I had already said that we'd go up and watch anyway. I'd say that Hampden, for an occasion [compared with the Madejski Stadium tomorrow night], is going to just shade it! The place is going to go absolutely nuts."

England will be out of contention if Russia defeat Israel. "I asked our manager [Steve Coppell] the other day if England would have qualified out of Scotland's group. He walked away hurriedly, and didn't reply," says Murty with a smile. "I take that as a positive for us."

Murty will be monitoring England's fate, principally because of the involvement of his Reading left-flank counterpart and close friend, Nicky Shorey, who remains a target for West Ham in the January window.

"I'm desperate for him to stay here, I really am, because he's one of our best attacking options, and a fantastic defender. Will he stay? Yes." And will he discuss his future with you? "Yeah, because I'm his mate. We have a natter about what he wants to do. Obviously, he wants to go right to the top. And that means playing for England. But if he wants to play every time England play, does he have to move?

"Well, he'll have to decidethat for himself. I can only say that we'll back him whatever he does, because he's continued to be fantastic for us even though his head has been turned a bit. If he leaves, we'll shake him by the hand, pat him on the back – and be ready to kick him when he comes back..."

Maybe, you contend, the left-back senses that Coppell's reluctance to spend in the summer betrays a lack of ambition. "If [Coppell] went out and paid someone £60,000 a week to play for Reading, it would shake the whole foundations of the place. And would that prove to Nicky Shorey that the club was ambitious? I'm not sure it would. To be honest, I think it might just change the dynamic in the changing room. I think the manager's very careful about that kind of thing."

The club's longest-serving player is a profound admirer of Coppell. "Since coming to the club, he's taken us on to more than one level; not just in terms of being in the Premiership, but in terms of players' aspirations as well. There's no real household names, but he keeps on getting performances out of them." He will need to conjure something remarkable tomorrow.

Watch Reading at home to Arsenal tomorrow on Setanta Sports 1, kick-off 8pm