Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal
0 – 1 Podolski (14)
0 – 2 Cazorla (31)
0 – 3 Cazorla (33)
0 – 4 Cazorla (60)
1 – 4 Le Fondre (66)
2 – 4 Kebe (71)
2 – 5 Walcott (80)
Although he declined to confirm it last night, nobody would be surprised if Arsène had walked down the tunnel warbling in a duet with Theo Walcott, “Can we play you every week?“, in his best Gallic/Teutonic tone. Wenger might have preferred, “Can we play like that every week?“, to the same tune. Arsenal found their form for this victory, three needed points taking them to fifth in the table.
Reading proved once more to be generous hosts, conceding a round dozen against Arsenal on their own turf with Walcott grabbing his fourth of the season. Star billing though went to Santi Cazorla who besides getting his two front teeth for Christmas, grabbed a yuletide treble to shine some joy on the north London sky. The Spaniard’s first hat-trick put Arsenal into an unassailable lead although the defence tried to replicate their hosts by dropping a four-goal lead. The flippant side believes it was all a big tease, to offer Reading hope when there appeared none, to make them feel less bad about the recent League Cup tie, before Walcott sealed the points.
It was a brave decision from the manager to play Walcott centrally, knowing the blades were being sharpened. Olivier Giroud returned to the bench which gives the manager options for the coming matches, particularly with their frequency during the Christmas period being something that catches new players out. The jury will be out on the English striker playing centrally but when opportunity knocked, it is churlish to declare that he did not take it. He will have to prove it time and again, you suspect, before everyone is convinced. I think the question will change slightly to encompass whether Walcott could be the crucial difference in a stalemate, against tighter marking? It’s the same for every central striker, nothing unique to the England international. Having been granted his wish to play in that position, Walcott’s next reason for not signing a contract will be interesting reading.
Arsenal started brightly and an early goal settled nerves, Oxlade-Chamberlain forced Ferderici into a save with a crisp drive. Reading responded with half-chances before Gibbs cross was cushioned into inches of space before being lashed home by Podolski. That partnership on the left had provided dividends on the left earlier in the season, the German seemingly rejuvenated by the youngster’s return for this match. Perhaps his own injury niggles have entirely cleared to help.
The visitors had the foothold in the game and a succession of chances went a-begging, notably to Walcott and Wilshere. Having publicly stated that the players should be held responsible for the drop in form, his words that they were ready to make amends were backed up with a top-notch performance from himself in the centre. Wilshere had hinted previously that his injury had not dimmed the promise, last night was the culmination of his return to the top level. More please, indeed.
Arsenal’s much deserved second came from the unlikeliest of sources with the playmaker turned poacher as Cazorla met Podolski’s cross with a stooping header, a brace arriving minutes later as he swivelled in space to beat Federeci with a low shot. Arsenal had established their dominance before the interval and three points were on their way back to north London. As Walcott squandered a couple of chances, it didn’t seem to matter when Cazorla completed his hat-trick following Podolski’s unselfish pass early in the second half.
Complacency might well have entered the fray as Reading’s twelfth man, Le Fondre and Kebe found space and the net in quick succession as Arsenal’s lead was halved. The script was hastily being rewritten but nobody was going to be allowed to ruin Santi Cazorla’s night as he saw his own effort saved by Federici and then had the vision to give Walcott his own moment of vindication. Five goals away from home, irrespective of the opposition, is not to be sniffed at.
The win is there to be enjoyed. It does not mean that the problems besetting Arsenal at the moment have all gone away but if nothing else, it offers hope. The mental strength so often alluded to by the manager was there to be seen but too often a good performance this season has been followed by mediocre. The run of fixtures this next fortnight or so is such that a strong winning run can be put together to bring pressure on Chelsea and Tottenham above us. Crucially, we should not expect immediate ascension into the top four with routine fixtures for those above this coming weekend.
As starting points go, if that run is going to be embarked upon, this is as good as any.