Arsenal got off to a very good start in this wide-open affair, with a goal within the first eight minutes from Podolski, who did well to control a cross from Gibbs with his right foot and then shoot it with his favored left foot past the keeper. That early goal will have settled the nerves of Arsenal players and fans alike. And Arsenal kept up the pressure on the Reading goal, with Reading posing virtually no threat at the other end of the field, until after the 25th minute. Arsenal really should have scored a second, when Theo Walcott wasted a great chance after being put in one-on-one against the goalie. When Reading did finally start mounting an offensive threat later in the half, Arsenal looked a bit fragile on defense (as usual), but also posed danger on the counterattack. Eventually, Arsenal ripped open the Reading defense for a second time, when Podolski crossed from the left and Santi Cazorla, the smallest man on the pitch, scored with a low header from right in front of goal. Again, it was nice play by the Gunners, but Reading was giving them acres and acres of space. Just a couple of minutes later, Cazorla doubled his pleasure, when he took a short pass inside the six-yard box with his back toward goal and had plenty of time turn and fire. Reading were barely putting up a fight on defense. 3-0 at halftime, the game seemed done and dusted. The match commentators referred to it as one of the most one-sided halves they'd ever witnessed.
But they played the second half anyway. It started with Reading dominating position but posing no real threats. Then, Aresenal reasserted control and Santi Cazorla completed his hat-trick in the 61st minute from a cross by Podolski that culminated a beautiful flowing move reminiscent of Arsenal's glory days. Then, inexplicably the Gunners just switched off the concentration and started giving away chances to Reading. Kieran Gibbs basically gave away Reading's first goal, when, under no pressure at all, he simply passed the ball into the path of a Reading player breaking in on goal. Readings second goal, minutes later, came after they broke Arsenal's offside trap. All of a sudden, it looked like Reading were going to make a game of it. But then, normal service was resumed. Arsenal's fifth and final goal came courtesy of a fine pass from player-of-the-match Santi Cazorla, who played Theo Walcott on goal. Walcott took the ball with his right foot, ducked inside a defender and finish clinically with his left foot. It was a fine goal by a player who was finally getting his chance to play central striker. On the evidence of such a wide-open game, it's hard to pass judgment on his performance in that role. He missed a couple of clear chances in the first half; did reasonably well holding the ball with his back to goal on a couple of occasions; but was always second choice to win balls in the air. Anyway, I fully expect Walcott to sign an advance contract with a Manchester club or Chelsea next month. Although Arsenal needs to stop losing its best players to other clubs, I do not consider Walcott to be in the same league with others that have left over the past two years, and his departure could constitute addition by subtraction, creating more opportunities for Oxlade-Chamberlain to develop.
Anyway, this game was just what the Gunners needed for their confidence. It marks their second straight win in the league, giving them much needed momentum; and it catapults them into 5th place in the league table, just two points out of fourth. They are third in the league in goal differential.
The Gunners generally seemed more relaxed today playing away from the Emirates (a little bit too relaxed on defense in the middle of the second half). Or was it just that Reading gave them plenty of room to maneuver? Reading were disappointing, particularly in the first half (in previous home games they have given top clubs a very tough time). But Arsenal did display some quality football today, which had been missing in recent matches. Perhaps the home fans might be able to reduce the pressure a bit next time they take the field at the Emirates.