Gervinho takes centre stage to rip ragged Royals apart
Arsenal 4 Reading 1
If Arsene Wenger had worried about the arrival of a new manager at Reading, he needn't have wasted his time. Nigel Adkins's first game at Reading suggested his new club are doomed and beyond even a dead cat's bounce.
Almost as importantly in the race for the Champions League, Adkins's successor at Southampton Mauricio Pochettino was demonstrating his potential by steering his side to victory against Chelsea.
If Reading had been unorthodox and fragile under Brian McDermott, yesterday they were without the one thing his side never lacked: spirit. If things were bleak for Reading before yesterday's game, they look even grimmer now as they slipped to the bottom of the table.
Arsenal cruised to a victory which, thanks to Chelsea's defeat, moved them closer to the top four. "It will be less predictable than was predicted," Wenger predicted. Some of the more beleaguered players in the Arsenal squad enjoyed their day. Gervinho scored Arsenal's first goal and kept going.
"Gervinho's performance was very strong," Wenger said. "He was always very strong. I believe he had lost confidence because he had played in a very negative atmosphere and strikers need confidence."
Yesterday allowed him to find it. Adkins could offer no insight into Reading's performance only to promise repeatedly a full debriefing before adding: "We need to work through the process of winning a game of football."
Arsenal got on with the winning, helped by Reading's unwillingness to do much to stop them. "We enjoyed the game," Wenger said. "I enjoyed our technical side, our spirit and the goals we scored."
The first came when Gervinho found time and space as he'd do all afternoon. He picked out Olivier Giroud and it didn't matter that he couldn't control it. Santi Cazorla soon had the ball and when it flew across the goal, Gervinho finished.
Gervinho headed wide shortly after that, while Arsenal should have had two penalties, the first the most blatant when goalkeeper Stuart Taylor brought down Giroud. It shouldn't have mattered but for most of the first half, Arsenal supporters had the feeling that it might. Gervinho had missed the two games against Reading earlier in the season when Arsenal had scored 12 goals but yesterday he looked like the happiest man in the world, if a happy man who stills falls over a lot and misses chances.
There were times when Reading's approach of allowing Arsenal all the time in the world to confuse themselves worked, but not very often. Giroud, too, was getting time and space and with the Arsenal misfits enjoying themselves, it was something of a surprise that Andre Santos or even Franny Jeffers didn't appear on the sideline, pleading to be involved.
Despite a first half full of possession, chances and the uplifting sight of Gervinho skipping through the defence, Arsenal only had a goal lead at half-time.
Nothing changed except the scoreline in the second half, but that changed quickly. Reading had retreated to the edge of the box again and Arsenal passed the ball swiftly. Cazorla was key to everything and when Gervinho knocked the ball back to him on the edge of the box, he used a defender to curl the ball past Taylor.
If Reading were playing a long game, hoping to lull Arsenal into a false sense of security by conceding sloppy goals and ignoring basic principles of defending, it was now the time to pounce.
They spent some time in the Arsenal half after the second goal and Alex Pearce volleyed at Lukasz Fabianski but they were always in danger and Arsenal's third goal came from a Reading short corner. Nicky Shorey crossed and Arsenal scrambled clear. Danny Guthrie just had to keep Arsenal penned in but instead he sloppily gave the ball away and Arsenal broke. Gervinho wanted the ball and he advanced on goal. Giroud was in support and demanding a chance. Gervinho found him and Giroud's low shot beat Taylor too easily.
Reading scored a minute later when Jobi McAnuff crossed to the far post and Hal Robson-Kanu dived low to head in, with Nacho Monreal injured in the process
But there was no fightback. Reading were so intent on destruction that their goal didn't matter. Adrian Mariappa got away with a handball in the first half but he wasn't done and he sloppily gave the ball away 30 yards from goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had just come on and he took the gift. Mariappa wasn't finished as he then brought Oxlade-Chamberlain down as he advanced and Arsenal had a penalty.
Mikel Arteta scored and Arsenal had a comfortable win. There haven't been many of them this season. Reading face Adkins's old club Southampton next week. "It's the Premier League, there shouldn't be any easy fixtures," Adkins said of next week's game. Reading proved their own manager wrong yesterday.