Steve Clarke
Steve Clarke's honesty has been a welcome change from the Nigel Adkins era, yet he has been unable to improve Reading's Championship fortunes.Getty Images

As an ardent Reading supporter, it still feels somewhat bizarre to think that the club now stand on the cusp of their first FA Cup semi-final since 1927 and only a second overall since being formed back in 1871.

More surprising still, is that such an achievement should coincide with the worst league season for a decade.

Reading, taken to the brink of administration last summer after years of model financial stability gave way to an ownership farce that has left preciously little room to manoeuvre in the transfer market, have been frequently wretched throughout a hugely frustrating 2014/15 campaign to date, lurching from one underwhelming and disappointing result to the next under two different managers.

Such has been the extent of the struggle that, just two years removed since their latest Premier League appearance, Reading still have not made sure of Championship safety with just four fixtures remaining.

Callum Wilson
A 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth on Tuesday left Reading eight points clear of the relegation zone with four games remaining.Getty Images

In truth, a dreadful sort of apathy has taken hold both on the pitch and in the stands over recent months.

Consistently poor form has gone hand-in-hand with dwindling attendances and the inability of Steve Clarke, who initially had a strong impact on defensive matters after replacing Nigel Adkins in the dugout in the aftermath of a 6-1 thumping at Birmingham, to lift this mismatched squad out of the doldrums has only served to accelerate that sense of detachment.

Thank God, then, for this cup run that has provided a timely and welcomed distraction from other matters. Reading have actually fared well in the competition in the last five years or so, with back-to-back quarter-final appearances recorded in 2010 and 2011.

To have any hope of conquering a formidable Arsenal team on a run of eight consecutive wins in all competitions, Reading will need to draw upon all of the spirit and resilience that saw them secure tight away victories over fellow second-tier outfits Huddersfield, Cardiff and Derby as well as two ties against an agricultural Bradford en route to the last four.

But willpower and effort alone, sadly, is not likely be enough. As hopelessly cliched as it may sound, Clarke's side will need to be faultless at the back, with the raw but talented Michael Hector and regular partner Alex Pearce likely to be sorely tested, and ensure they are not found wanting on the rare occasions they are afforded the opportunity to break forward on the counter attack.

Michael Hector
The development of Michael Hector has been a bright spot of an otherwise disappointing season at the Madejski Stadium.Getty Images

The Royals' key issue of late has been a desperate lack of guile in the final third. Recent draws with Cardiff and Blackburn and even the 1-0 loss to leaders Bournemouth have produced sustained spells of impressive passing, yet an absence of a vital killer instinct has proved costly.

In Pavel Pogrebnyak and Nottingham Forest loanee Jamie Mackie, they have an industrious and incredibly hard-working front two who are capable of finding the net on something approaching a regular basis.

However, the former in particular is too often forced to retreat out of the penalty area in order to find possession and while his hold-up play is strong and his touches always neat, it means he is rarely able to capitalise on the few chances that are created.

Indeed, the fact that Glenn Murray is still tied with the lesser-spotted Simon Cox as the club's joint-top scorer despite having returned to Crystal Palace more than four months ago tells you all you need to know about the continued struggles in front of goal.

Likeable veteran Yakubu scored an important winner at Pride Park in round five, but that remains his only strike since arriving in Berkshire in January.

Yakubu
Yakubu has failed to make much of an impact back in England.Getty Images

Previous success for Reading under the likes of Steve Coppell and Brian McDermott has largely been achieved by getting quick balls out to the wings and relying on a succession of talented widemen to isolate their markers and provide the necessary ammunition.

Garath McCleary, missing for the first three months of the season after surgery on a long-standing back problem, possesses skill and pace in abundance but often struggles to provide a quality final ball.

Hal Robson-Kanu, meanwhile, has been heavily criticised by disgruntled supporters when playing out on the left or more centrally this term but his best moments have come during the FA Cup run with goals against Cardiff, Derby and Bradford.

If Reading are to spring an unlikely upset, then the midfield battle will be pivotal. With the versatile Nathan Ake cup-tied, popular captain Jem Karacan could retain his place alongside Nathaniel Chalobah for only his fourth start since September 2013 following a serious knee problem.

Jem Karacan
Karacan could skipper Reading at Wembley, although it remains to be seen if he can play three games in seven days following a torrid time with injury.Getty Images

Clarke has been known to operate with three central midfielders when attempting to contain talented opposition and in the likely event that he does so again on 18 April, then the importance of Danny Williams' return simply cannot be overstated.

Although the United States international has arguably not been at his best during another injury-affected season, his ability to drive forward with strength and purpose in possession is crucial and cannot be rivalled by anyone else in the current squad.

Reading fans, many of whom will have vivid memories of that utterly preposterous 7-5 Capital One Cup defeat suffered in 2012 and of two galling playoff final defeats at Wembley, head to the home of English football knowing that their side are unlikely to arrest a dismal run of heavy losses against Arsenal.

However, that should not render the occasion any less enjoyable. In a season that has provided preciously few moments of genuine excitement, supporters deserve the chance to enjoy themselves.

As long as a likely defeat does not extend to flat-out humiliation, then it will be a day to savour. And as Obafemi Martins famously proved four years ago, Arsenal are not unconquerable in these high-profile ties.