Arsenal back in the race with Chelsea and Spurs after giving Reading a royal hammering

PUBLISHED: 17:17 30 March 2013 | UPDATED: 13:31 31 March 2013

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud scores the fourth goal against Reading. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud scores the fourth goal against Reading. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

PA Wire

Premier League: Arsenal 4 Reading 1

A rampant Arsenal blew away rock-bottom Reading to remain hot on the heels of London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea for the fourth Champions League qualification spot.

The 4-1 scoreline was the Gunners’ third goal glut against the Royals this season but a tally that was flattering to the visitors who had shipped 12 in their previous two encounters with Arsene Wenger’s men. They could have conceded that many in the first 45 minutes alone had the hosts’ killer-instinct been more finely tuned.

It was a thrashing that wasn’t hard to predict as Arsenal had a 100 per cent record in all of their past 11 meetings, but while their League Cup meeeting had been a ding-dong encounter this latest instalment was effectively won when Gervinho struck in the fourth minute.

The performance that it heralded ensured that injured Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby were not missed but there was, however, a poignant moment for a club legend who is, when late midfielder David Rocastle was given a standing ovation on seven minutes to mark the 12th anniversary of his premature death.

The class of 2013 did the memory of Rocky proud as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta all added to a half time 1-0 advantage that would have been a cricket score but for some desperate defending and, at times lacklustre finishing, that failed to complement some beautiful build-up play.

There were some standout performances as Gervinho had one of his more influential games in a red shirt, while Aaron Ramsey kept things ticking over and the wandering Cazorla provided the attacking spark.

Yet running riot against a side on a seven-game losing streak will do little to disprove Arsenal’s reputation as the flat-track bullies of the Premier League because, on this evidence, Reading require a miracle akin to the resurrection if debutant manager Nigel Adkins is to prevent them from dropping back into the Championship.

Still, the Gunners can only beat the sides that are placed in front of them and they did it in a style that will have Chelsea looking over their shoulders after the Blues dropped down to fourth place, leapfrogged by Spurs, after losing at Southampton.

For Arsenal, the international break appeared to have no effect on the momentum that had seen them win four out of five league games and they immediately made camp in Reading’s half.

Giroud kick-started former Gunner Stuart Taylor’s busy afternoon in-between the posts with an early flicked header that dropped into the keeper’s arms and his next action was to pick the ball out of the net as Gervinho was on hand to tuck away Cazorla’s cross-cum-shot.

The Ivorian should have doubled his and his side’s tally soon after but he glanced Bacary Sagna’s cross wide after the full-back had delightfully dropped his shoulder to create space.

Giroud had set about harassing the Royals backline and should have earned a penalty when he was clattered and left in a heap on the ground after latching on to Arteta’s agricultural ball and lifting over Taylor. Referee Chris Foy was unmoved and he would later miss the outstretched arm of Adrian Mariappa connecting with the ball in his own penalty area before awarding the hosts a 77th minute spot-kick.

The visitors were simply unable to thwart Arsenal’s attacks, whether they were fashioned with Cazorla-inspired tiki-taka play around the area or, as Gervinho showed, a blistering run from his own half. Fortunately for the Royals the forward’s scuffed shot from 18 yards was a poor dénouement to that solo show.

Even when the hosts weren’t scything holes in their opponents’ rearguard, the Berkshire side proved the masters of their own downfall, giving possession away in dangerous areas and then having to make desperate, last-ditch blocks to keep the red tide at bay.

This, for Wenger’s men, was the only frustrating aspect to their afternoon as time and again in the opening period shots cannoned off defenders, while Cazorla just pulled wide on the one occasion a Reading player couldn’t intervene.

While before the break Arsenal couldn’t turn their dominance into the second goal that had deserved, they only had to wait three minutes after the restart for some breathing space, provided by a moment of sheer class from their Spanish maestro.

With blue and white shirts blocking his path to goal there appeared few spaces for Cazorla to take aim at so he used Giroud as a shield and bent a shot around his team-mate and just inside the upright. Taylor had no chance.

A third followed after the hour and again it was instigated by careless play from Reading as Danny Guthrie gave the ball away from their own corner. Still there was a great deal of work to do for Gervinho but he raced down the other end and delayed his pass until Giroud had caught up, the Frenchman rifling unerringly beyond the keeper.

Just as Arsenal were preparing to slip into cruise control there was an instant riposte as Robson-Kanu stooped to head home Jobi McAnuff’s cross. It was merely a consolation though and the travelling Royals fans knew it, even though they chimed up with an optimistic ode about winning 4-3.

Instead the Gunners claimed their fourth of the afternoon from the spot in somewhat fortunate circumstances as substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with virtually his first contribution, was brought down outside the box by Mariappa. Mr Foy, perhaps making up for his earlier error, pointed to the spot and Arteta did the rest.

His side were able to coast to the final whistle with the only extravagance a sizzling shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain which forced Taylor into a flying block but will further enhance the England international’s chances of a start when the Gunners travel to West Brom next weekend where they can expect to face a much sterner test.

Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta, Giroud (Podolski, 75), Ramsey, Monreal (Gibbs, 71), Cazorla, Gervinho (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 75)

Unused subs: Szczesny, Vermaelen, Coquelin, Jenkinson,

Reading: Taylor, Shorey, Karacan (Akpan, 76), Pearce, Mariappa, Pogrebnyak ( Hunt, 60), Leigertwood, McAnuff, Robson-Kanu (McCleary, 80), Guthrie, Kelly

Unused subs: Gunter, Le Fondre, Morrison, McCarthy

Referee: Chris Foy

Attendance: 60,082

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