With pressure increasing on Arsène Wenger after a shock Capital One Cup loss to League Two’s Bradford City last week, Arsenal needed to respond against 20th-placed Reading at the Madejski Stadium – and the Frenchman got a reaction. The Gunners made an electric start as the pace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, combined with the movement and passing of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, soon had Reading’s defence working overtime. In trademark Arsenal fashion, Oxlade-Chamberlain led a break from a Royals corner, combining with Cazorla, before drawing a low save from Adam Federici from 25 yards. It was a statement of intent and the Gunners soon made the breakthrough, albeit aided by dreadful defending. Kieran Gibbs was afforded sufficient time to pick out Lukas Podolski, and the Germany international put the visitors ahead in emphatic style. The early goal injected much-needed confidence into the north London side. And with Cazorla adding two further goals amid a shockingly poor Reading performance in the opening 45 minutes, it was proving nothing more than a morale-boosting exercise with the home side offering very little to test Wenger’s men.
In a lopsided first-half at the Madejski, Arsenal produced seven efforts on goal – only in two whole games have they produced more attempts in the Premier League this season. Notably, Cazorla was at the centre of Arsenal’s frequent forays into the opposition half as he finally rediscovered some form reminiscent of his early season performances. Wilshere’s return has undoubtedly provided Arsenal with an alternative creative outlet, which in turn has helped unburden Cazorla. With Mikel Arteta content to sit deep and keep Arsenal ticking over, Cazorla and Wilshere were dominant, with the pair exchanging 32 passes, showing signs of a blossoming partnership. But it was the former Malaga man who particularly shone as he netted his first Premier League hat-trick, becoming the third Spaniard to do so in the English top flight after Jordi Gomez and Fernando Torres. But it wasn’t just Cazorla’s goals. He made 28 passes in the final third – more than any other Arsenal player – and created six chances for the visitors.
With Queens Park Rangers finally ending a 16-game winless run and moving off the bottom of the Premier League, the onus was on Reading to produce a swashbuckling display akin to their first-half effort against Arsenal in the League Cup. But Reading, who had one win in 10 attempts at the Madejski ahead of Arsenal’s visit, were simply abject. While the gulf in class between the Gunners and the Royals was understandable giving the difference in stature, McDermott’s men were outfought by the visitors. It was a failure to adhere to simple defending principles that cost Reading. Jimmy Kébé failed to track Gibbs’ run in the lead-up to Podolski’s opener, while Shaun Cummings was guilty of poor marking as the German international crossed for Cazorla to add a second. To compound McDermott’s misery, It was the 13th goal which Reading have conceded from crosses this season, highlighting a failure to learn from previous mistakes. The former Malaga man managed to collect Gibbs’ pass and swivel before firing low past Federici as his defence were second best in Reading’s area. Ahead of the game, McDermott insisted that his Reading side would keep believing despite increasing gloom descending over the club and Adam Le Fondre’s 66th-minute strike lifted the Madejski outfit. Reading’s spirits were further raised when Hal Robson-Kanu teed up Kébé to ensure Arsenal endured a nervy final 19 minutes. But ultimately, Wenger’s men were too strong as Theo Walcott made it 5-2. McDermott’s side have now conceded 36 goals in 17 games, and with a trip to Manchester City on Saturday, Reading look set for a blue Christmas.
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