Arsenal boss happy but not complacent after 5-2 victory
Santi Carzola hat-trick helps Gunners back to fifth spot but defensive frailties are there for all to see
Reading 2 Arsenal 5. Santi Carzola gave Arsene Wenger some breathing space on Monday evening with a virtuoso display that included a hat-trick of goals. The little Spaniard was just too good for Reading on a night when Arsenal went some way to silencing their recent critics.
It was an impressive offensive display from the Gunners with Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski both scoring and both looking sharp, but once again Arsenal's defensive frailties were there for all to see. Reading are the Premier League's basement club but they still managed to score twice against the Gunners as the visitors' back four handed out some early Christmas present to their hosts.
Sterner tests await Arsenal in the coming weeks, and the feeling persists that against the very best sides in the league the Gunners will struggle.
But for the moment Arsenal must concentrate on the positives, notably a scintillating first 45 minutes in which their slick passing game and intelligent lines of running overwhelmed Reading. Podolski gave Arsenal the lead on 14 minutes when he showed good control to fire home from close range. Eighteen minutes later Carzola made it 2-0 with a clever low header.
By half-time the Spaniard had added a third, and the rout continued after the break when he became only the third Spanish player to score a Premier League hat-trick after Fernando Torres and Jordi Gomez.
Reading staged a mini-revival midway during the second half, scoring twice in five minutes through Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe as Arsenal's defence went to sleep. Suddenly the Gunners didn't look quite so in control. Normal service was resumed ten minutes from full-time as Walcott finished a sweet move with a low shot that beat Adam Federici in the Reading goal all ends up.
Though the victory moves Arsenal up into fifth spot they remain 15 points behind leaders Manchester United and manager Arsene Wenger was careful afterwards not to claim that the result was a turning-point. "Our ambition is to finish as high as we can and win our next game," he declared. "That's all we can do, that and focus on the quality of our football. The game is based on movement and technical quality and that demands freedom of initiative."
Midfielder Jack Wilshere, who is reportedly close to signing a new deal with Arsenal, was not getting carried away either by one good result against one bad team, "We need to tighten up defensively as we gave two sloppy goals away," said Wilshere, who was another Gunner to impress in the victory. "[But] I think we saw the old Arsenal in some patches tonight."
For Theo Walcott, the night was a rare opportunity to play up front from the start and he rewarded his manager's faith with a goal. "We showed people the true Arsenal," he claimed later, a week after they had been knocked out of the League Cup by lowly Bradford. "We're a big family and we know our quality and that we're good enough."