Arsenal dominate proceedings against Reading at the Madejski
By Alex Williams. Last Updated: 17/12/12 11:40pm
Santi Cazorla (L): Was in irresistable form against Reading
Arsenal made light of their recent 'crisis' by crushing Reading 5-2 on Monday night to gain some much-needed confidence.
Theo Walcott was deployed as a central striker and did not disappoint, although it was hat-trick hero Santi Cazorla who stole the show to get the Gunners firing again after their shocking Captial One Cup defeat to Bradford.
Reading were hoping that Arsenal would have been vulnerable after that loss and the barrage of criticism which followed, but the hosts were never really in the game despite a quick-fire double in the second half.
Reading made three changes to the starting XI which went down to Sunderland last time out. Kaspars Gorkss came back into the centre of defence to replace Alex Pearce, while Jimmy Kebe returned from injury to take the place of Garath McCleary. The most notable change came up front, however, as Pavel Pogrebnyak made his first start since October after being out of favour recently.
Arsenal kept the same back four following the already-infamous Bradford defeat, but brought Mikel Arteta back into the centre of midfield alongside Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, who started in his coveted central striking role, came into the front three with Lukas Podolski.
Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb were overwhelmed as they matched up against Arsenal's star-studded midfield three. Pograbnyak tried to drift into wide areas but his movement was to no avail and Adam Le Fondre looked livelier when he came on. Defensively there was little cohesion or urgency and the team as a whole was second best throughout.
The visitors dominated the midfield and attacking areas. Cazorla, Wilshere and Arteta were virtually unopposed in the centre of the pitch and were able to spread balls out to the full-backs. Kieran Gibbs and Podolski combined especially well on the left against a penned-back Reading, who could do little to respond. The width provided by Gibbs and Sagna allowed Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain to cut inside and provide even more numbers in the middle.
Reading manager Brian McDermott did not make a change until straight after Arsenal scored their fourth goal, with Le Fondre and Hal Rosbson-Kanu coming on for the striking pair of Pogrebnyak and Noel Hunt. Robson-Kanu provided an extra man in midfield and set up the second goal for Kebe. Le Fondre scored soon after coming on and played the role of lone striker well with good movement. Kebe coming off appeared a strange move as he was arguably Reading's best player but the winger was lacking match fitness.
Arsene Wenger altered things after Reading pulled it back to 4-2, with Aaron Ramsey replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was drifting out of the game after a fast start. He made no further substitutions until his side's fifth goal had gone in, with Walcott and Cazorla enjoying ovations from the travelling fans and Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud given run outs.
Anthony Taylor did not have many major decisions to make and instead most of the close calls fell to his assistants with Arsenal keen to work the offside trap. To their credit, the pair running the line got it largely right. Taylor booked Jobi McAnuff for a high foot and Wilshere for the same offence, although the latter's was slightly harsh as it seemed to be a 50-50 with Gorkss.
Reading were left chasing shadows for much of the game but one player who did impress was Kebe. The wide man worked hard and looked good on the ball as he tried to provide a creative input. He capped his performance with a well-taken goal and McDermott would surely have left him on had he not been returning from injury and therefore probably short of fitness.
The scoresheet tells you everything you need to know about Arsenal's main man. Cazorla was given the freedom on the central midfield by Reading and capitalised to produce a virtuoso performance. The Spaniard's passing was superb as were his runs into the box, which yielded three goals.
Reading need to find a remedy to their defensive woes quickly if they are to avoid being cut adrift in the battle to avoid relegation. The midfield duo of Leigertwood and Tabb are unlikely to match up favourably with many teams in the league and could be contributing to how many goals the team is conceding. After a trip to Manchester City they will need to pick up points from two home games with Swansea and West Ham.
Arsenal are now just two points behind the Champions League places but the challenge will be to show the consistency that has so far eluded them this season. Walcott gave a promising display as a central striker and Arsenal fans will surely call for him to be deployed in the role more often. In Wilshere and Cazorla they have two top-class midfield operators who will be key to a good run of form. They play Wigan, West Ham, Newcastle and Southampton over the festive period - four clearly winnable games.
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