Arsenal continued their fight for a Champions League place as they inflicted a 4-1 defeat on Reading in Nigel Adkins’s first game in charge.
The result was never in doubt from the moment Gervinho gave the home side an early lead before Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud made the game safe in the second half. Although Hal Robson-Kanu pulled a goal back, Mikel Arteta restored the three-goal advantage from the spot.
Arsenal remain in fifth in the Premier League table, but now have both Chelsea and Tottenham firmly in their sights, separated by just two and four points, respectively.
The manner of victory will give manager Arsene Wenger confidence that his side can bridge that gap, although the performance comes with a considerable caveat given the poor quality of a Reading side that are still seven points from safety and are surely doomed for the drop.
In what was one of the most one-sided first halves the Premier League has witnessed all season, it was almost hard to fathom how the home side only went in at the interval a goal in front.
To his credit, Adkins was trying to get his new team to play out from the back, but time and again they lost possession in bad areas. Combined with that flaw was an inability to close players down, a feature of that Arsenal have often capitalized on in their opposition this season.
Gervinho was relishing the space and appeared more confident in an Arsenal shirt than in several months. It was the Ivory Coast international that got the ball rolling for Arsenal 11 minutes in. Gervinho initiated the move as he cut in from the right before the ball was taken away from Olivier Giroud in the box. It arrived straight at the feet of Santi Cazorla, though, and the Spaniard fired it across the six-yard box where Gervinho was on hand for the simplest of finishes.
The forward, blighted by inconsistency throughout his Arsenal career, could and probably should have added to his tally in the opening half. He missed a presentable chance moments after opening the scoring as he headed wide from 10 yards, while his dribbling skills and quick footwork also led to two efforts that missed the target.
Gervinho also set up a clear opportunity for Cazorla, but the Spaniard shot inches wide of the post on his left foot.
While Arsenal were profligate, referee Chris Foy was also guilty of not awarding the hosts as clear a penalty as will be seen this season when former Arsenal goalkeeper Stuart Taylor took out Giroud in the box.
Adkins will have hoped that by getting his side in at the break at just a goal down that he could mastermind a turnaround in the second half. But within three minutes of the restart his plans were undone.
Again Gervinho was allowed far too much time in the box and this time he rolled it back to Cazorla on the edge of the area to curl a delightful shot just inside Taylor’s left-hand post.
Reading tried to at least make a game of it and registered their first effort of note after Pavel Pogrebnyak headed down to Alex Pearce in the area, but the defender could only volley straight at the underworked Lukasz Fabianski.
Just as Reading were trying to apply some pressure, Arsenal struck a third on the break. Gervinho was at the heart of things again as he came forward down the right before being allowed to saunter inside to the edge of the box and laying it over to the left for Giroud, who fired a crisp low left-footed strike past Taylor.
The game appeared done and dusted, but almost immediately Reading gave their traveling fans somethign to cheer by pulling a goal back. From Jobi McAnuff’s whipped in cross, no one took charge at the back for Arsenal and Robson-Kanu snuck in at the back post to header home from close range.
But it was to ultimately be a goal of little significance. Seconds after coming on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain intercepted another errant Reading pass before dribbling to the edge of the box and being tripped by Adrian Mariappa. The contact may have been a fraction outside the area, but this time the referee gave Arsenal the benefit of the doubt and awarded a spot kick that Arteta stroked low into the corner to complete one of their most comfortable afternoons of the campaign.