independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Gunners finally fire as Santi delivers cheer

Reading 2 Arsenal 5

In one of his more relaxed and perceptive moments last year, Arsene Wenger compared the phenomenon of 'crisis club' in English football to being caught in a raging fire. "It moves very quickly from one club to another and you have to be careful because the fire can quickly come back," he remarked. Wenger, then, will be acutely aware that this emphatic dousing of Reading does not amount to evidence that his team will survive this season without further scars.

What it does do, however, is reduce some of the heat on Arsenal since the humiliation of their League Cup exit against Bradford last Tuesday. It has also allowed them to leapfrog Everton and West Brom into fifth in the Premier League and, perhaps most importantly, move to within only two points of Chelsea in third.

Wenger will be especially enthused by some very clear signs that his team are rediscovering the smooth attacking rhythm that has been the traditional hallmark of his teams. Santi Cazorla produced a masterclass with his hat-trick and, in his first proper outing for Arsenal as a central striker, Theo Walcott also delivered a performance of genuine promise.

Arsenal supporters are hardly on safe ground just now to be taunting opposition fans and, within seconds of kick-off last night, their attempts to recall the League Cup success here from 4-0 down was soon drowned out by the painful reminder of Bradford.

Pace

Having selected virtually his strongest team in losing to League Two opposition, Wenger made three changes last night and, significantly, was able to upgrade in three key areas. Mikel Arteta provided extra composure to the midfield while Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added a much needed injection of pace to their attack.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, especially, was immediately impressive, cutting in from Walcott's usual position wide on the right to force a finger-tip save from Adam Federici. The opening goal, however, was to come from another player who sees himself as the answer in Robin van Persie's old position.

With Walcott also lurking in the penalty area, Lukas Podolski delivered a perfectly timed run into Reading's penalty area to first control Kieran Gibbs' cross and then, in one quick movement, direct a finish past Federici.

Shortly after Podolski again dissected Reading's defence with shocking ease. Cazorla had anticipated the cross, evading Adrian Mariappa with his darting run before sending a low header past Federici.

The source of the third goal was again Reading's right flank as Gibbs drifted into the area and headed back across goal, allowing Cazorla to control the ball before spinning to volley home.

It was, though, further excellence from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski that presented the chance from which Cazorla gratefully put Arsenal four goals clear. That appeared to be the end of the match as a contest but, at their moment of greatest dominance, the vulnerabilities of Arsenal were evident again.

Jay Tabb allowed Adam Le Fondre to get behind Arsenal's back four and calmly round Wojciech Szczesny. Then Wenger's nerves were further tested when Jimmy Kebe found space and shot calmly inside the post.

Arsenal's wobble was corrected by Walcott who capped an impressive performance by cutting inside, collecting a clever pass from Cazorla and side-footing past Federici. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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