Reading 2-5 Arsenal

By Phil McNultyBBC Sport chief football writer at the Madejski Stadium
Arsenal's Santi Cazorla
Arsenal's Santi Cazorla

Arsenal started to heal the wounds inflicted by the Capital One Cup humiliation at League Two Bradford City with an impressive win at Reading.

Lukas Podolski gave Arsenal an early lead and the Gunners were four up on the hour mark after Santi Cazorla became only the third Spaniard to score a Premier League hat-trick after Fernando Torres and Jordi Gomez.

Reading, utterly outclassed, raised the prospect of the most unlikely comeback as Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe scored twice in the space of five minutes.

But Theo Walcott, impressive in the central striker's role he sees as crucial to his Arsenal future, snuffed out any Reading optimism with a composed finish that sends Arsene Wenger's side up to fifth place in the table.

As an exercise in recovery after the misery of Bradford, this will have done Arsenal's confidence and morale a power of good - and supports Wenger's claim that his side still have plenty to offer this season.

It was a victory, however, that needs to be seen in the context of the limp opposition offered by Reading, who are now in serious danger of being cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, where they remain six points from safety.

Royals manager Brian McDermott has overseen progress that has taken Reading a long way in a short time - but there were spells on Monday when what is required in the Premier League looked a long way beyond them.

Arsenal dominated with embarrassing ease for long periods against a home side who, for the first hour at least, gave the ominous impression of a side simply passing through on their way back into the Championship.

The presence of Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal a pace and movement Reading simply could not handle - with plenty of others, Cazorla chief among them, willing to join in to add extra attacking options.

Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered a taste of things to come in a harrowing opening half for Reading when he forced a fine save from keeper Adam Federici inside two minutes.

Win shows our strength - Wenger

Reading had a couple of moments of encouragement when the powerful Pavel Pogrebnyak almost stole in behind Arsenal's defence, and again when Noel Hunt glanced a header just over.

But the visitors made good on their early threat after 14 minutes. Kieran Gibbs was the provider with a cross from the right, allowing Podolski to arrive in space and take a perfect first touch before firing past Federici.

Podolski then shot narrowly wide before Walcott's speed took him into open space behind Reading's hopeless defence only for Federici to block with his legs.

Federici was distinguishing himself amid the carnage around him and saved well from Jack Wilshere before Cazorla added an inevitable second just after the half-hour as he headed in Podolski's cross.

Reading were falling apart and Cazorla added the third soon after, again taking advantage of dreadful marking to swivel and beat Federici from close range.

The plight of the home side was cruelly illustrated when their own fans broke into ironic cheers to mark a short spell of possession, an act hardly designed to offer encouragement.

The Royals survived the first 15 minutes of the second half before Arsenal made it four, Cazorla completing his hat-trick after Wilshere found Podolski, who unselfishly set up the Spaniard for a simple finish.

As the Madejski sat back and waited for Arsenal to add more goals, Reading suddenly came to life and two quick goals briefly gave this one-sided game a competitive edge.

Le Fondre rounded Wojciech Szczesny to pull one back after 66 minutes and Kebe squeezed between two Arsenal defenders to at least give Reading some encouragement.

In October when these teams last met, Arsenal recovered from 4-0 down to win an extraordinary Capital One Cup tie 7-5 in extra time, and perhaps home fans fleetingly spied revenge.

No choice but to fight - McDermott

But Walcott deserved a goal for his endeavours and it duly arrived with a stylish finish to end Reading hopes.

Arsenal's fans appreciated his efforts and constantly urged Wenger to sort out the England attacker's contract impasse. When he departed late on, it was to a standing ovation.

Reading boss Brian McDermott: "I was very pleased with the response in the second half. Now we'll stick together and move on.

"We've got to fight, no doubt about that - that's the only choice we have.

"We had to do that last year, the year before that and the year before that when we were in a similar position in the Championship.

"I think people have forgotten where we have come from over a short period of time. But the fans got behind us, they saw in the second half we tried to have a go and get the goals back."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: "At 4-0 we had a little wobbling period, and at 4-2 of course with what happened last week we became a bit uncertain before the 5-2 killed the game.

"But overall it was important to go out and play and give the right answer on the football pitch."


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