Ox stakes Gunners claim with double
Arsenal 2 Reading 0
Arsene Wenger receives almost daily reminders of his longevity at Arsenal and, having overseen some of the most thunderous grudge matches in English football against the Manchester United vintage of Jaap Stam, must have been grateful for the rather gentler test that was provided here by Reading.
A 2-0 win clinches Arsenal's place in the League Cup quarter-final and was fully representative of a dominant team performance, of which the decisive contribution was provided by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
He also scored here against Ludogorets in the Champions League last week and, while there was also some uncertainty in his finishing, his tireless running was rewarded with a second and third goal in the space of a week.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had needed an entire year last season to score as many goals.
Arsenal's squad strength this season meant that nine changes from the team that drew 0-0 with Middlesbrough could still leave a nice blend of youth and experience for the one domestic competition that Wenger has never won.
Reading's desire to play football was admirably evident from the start but, with it, the certainty that they would give Arsenal's plenty of chances.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adélaide had started in the three attacking positions behind Lucas Pérez and, with Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs both constantly overlapping from full-back, Arsenal's fluidity caused immediate problems.
Arsenal's principal threat was largely evident down Oxlade-Chamberlain's right flank and, from his partially cleared cross, Ainsley Maitland-Niles found space on the edge of Reading's penalty area and curled his shot only narrowly wide.
More powerful running from Oxlade-Chamberlain created another chance for Pérez but Arsenal's new £17 m striker was also guilty of over-complicating the situation by attempting virtually to walk the ball into the goal.
A goal, though, had become almost inevitable and the identity of the scorer was no surprise. Oxlade-Chamberlain, once again, created panic in the Reading defence with his direct running and made space in front of Tyler Blackett before drilling his low finish into the corner of Ali Al-Habsi's goal.
Reading did then almost draw level shortly before half-time when Callum Harriott's shot from just outside the penalty area was deflected off Gabriel and high over Emiliano Martínez but the ball eventually nestled on top of the goal when it could just have easily looped under the crossbar.
Oxlade-Chamberlain started the second-half with the same purpose but, having seemingly carved out enough space to shoot from a very similar position to his earlier goal, his effort was blocked by Liam Kelly.
Just after the hour Wenger introduced Olivier Giroud, who was been out for the past month with a toe injury, and his impact was almost immediate, with him rising unmarked to meet Mohamed Elneny's freekick but prompting a brilliant reaction save by Al-Habsi. In the ensuring goal-mouth scramble, Liam Moore also made a goalline clearance to keep Reading in the game.
As well as his aerial threat, Giroud's wider qualities in linking Arsenal's attacks are easily underestimated and he soon produced a deft pass to release Oxlade-Chamberlain. The attempted finish again lacked authority.
Arsenal were increasingly dominant and, after Rob Holding made an unexpected sprint to the byline, Giroud was able to again cleverly work the ball back into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain whose shot was helped past Al-Habsi with a deflection off Obita. (© Daily Telegraph, London)