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Arsenal kept up the pressure in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification with a 4-1 win over Reading at Emirates Stadium, which sent the Royals bottom of the Barclays Premier League.
Ivory Coast forward Gervinho set the hosts on their way after 11 minutes. However, despite dominating possession, it was not until the start of the second half where the crucial breakthrough came again, this time Santi Cazorla sweeping home. Olivier Giroud added a third following a quick break by Gervinho.
Hal Robson-Kanu headed in a consolation for Nigel Adkins' men - the manager in charge for the first time - but there was to be no recovery as Mikel Arteta's penalty made sure Arsenal closed up on Chelsea in the race for fourth and remained within striking distance of Tottenham, on whom they hold a match in hand.
Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny both had to be content with a place on the bench, while Adkins' made two changes in his first match in charge, as striker Pavel Pogrebnyak returned from suspension and Danny Guthrie also came in to midfield.
Reading - who squandered a 4-0 lead against Arsenal in their home Capital One Cup tie this season - started positively, as Mikele Leigertwood headed wide from a corner. On seven minutes, there were chants and applause in memory of former Arsenal and England midfielder David Rocastle, who 12 years ago tomorrow lost his battle against cancer aged just 33.
The home fans were soon on their feet again on 11 minutes as Gervinho fired them into an early lead. The forward turned on the edge of the penalty area, before feeding Giroud. The ball broke to Cazorla out on the left, and his low centre was swept into the roof of the net, past former Arsenal trainee Stuart Taylor.
The hosts continued to press and right-back Bacary Sagna floated a ball into the Reading box, which Gervinho could not guide on target with a cushioned header. Arsenal felt they had a penalty shout as Giroud was clattered by Taylor after hooking the ball over the goalkeeper, but referee Chris Foy was not convinced.
Gervinho was in full flow again on 22 minutes, charging to the edge of the area as the Reading defence back-tracked, only to then drag his shot wide. The one-way traffic continued, as Cazorla clipped the side-netting with an angled shot from close-range. Gervinho remained lively, creating space with some neat footwork in the penalty area before shooting over.
Arsenal sensed they needed the cushion of a second goal, and it came just after the restart. Gervinho was again involved on 48 minutes as the ball was worked to the edge of the Reading penalty area, where Cazorla curled an exquisite effort around the defender and inside Taylor's left post.
Reading continued to look for a way back into the match as Laurent Koscielny needed to make a last-ditch tackle on Pogrebnyak. Arsenal made it 3-0 on 67 minutes, with Gervinho again the creator.
He latched on to a chip from Sagna to canter away down the right and to the edge of the box, before feeding Giroud, who dispatched a low strike back across goal.
Arsenal switched off, which allowed Reading to pull a goal back as Jobi McAnuff's floated cross from the left was headed in at the far post by Robson-Kanu - with full-back Nacho Monreal clattering into the woodwork. The Spaniard was replaced by Kieran Gibbs, who had been laid low by a virus this week.
With 15 minutes left, Arsenal made a double change as Gervinho went off to a standing ovation as he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and fit-again Lukas Podolski came on for Giroud.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was soon in the thick of the action, latching onto a loose pass from Adrian Mariappa before charging into the penalty area, where he was clipped by the Reading defender. This time, Mr Foy did point to the spot.
Mikel Arteta, captain again in Vermaelen's absence, made no mistake from 12 yards as Arsenal chalked up a sixth win in the last eight league games.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "Gervinho's performance was very strong. He was always dangerous, always looked like he could score, gave assists and scored himself. Sometimes Gervinho has lost confidence because he played in a very negative atmosphere during a period. When he has found the confidence back, he's a very dangerous player.
"The only regret is that he had a few more chances to score, but you cannot fault his performance today, he was absolutely outstanding. I enjoyed our technical side, our creative side, our spirit and how disciplined and focused we were. Overall it's a good basis to finish the season well. Let's just keep that spirit, that attitude and play the football we want to play."
Reading manager Nigel Adkins: "We have had a bit of a fragmented week with the change, and players away on international duty, trying to get to grips with where we want to go and what to do is going to be challenging.
"We wanted to get something here, but didn't. Arsenal kept the ball very well. We will analyse it now, debrief back with the players, take the lessons from it and work very hard on the training ground for the next one. You can't change everything straightaway, but we will all work hard together to give us a chance in the next game.
"The spirit is there in the group, and all we can do is take it one match at a time - the here and now is putting this one to bed and working hard over the course of the week for the next one."
|13 Apr 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|04 May 2013||v QPR (A)|
|06 Apr 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|14 May 2013||v Wigan (H)|
|20 Apr 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Newcastle (A)|