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Cazorla hat-trick buries ghost of cup defeat

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 - 10:11am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

In one of his more relaxed and perceptive moments last year, Arsene Wenger compared the phenomenon of 'crisis club' in English football to being caught in a raging fire.

In one of his more relaxed and perceptive moments last year, Arsene Wenger compared the phenomenon of 'crisis club' in English football to being caught in a raging fire. "It moves very quickly from one club to another and you have to be careful because the fire can quickly come back," he remarked. Wenger, then, will be acutely aware that this emphatic dousing of Reading does not amount to evidence that his team will survive this season without further scars.

What it does do, however, is reduce some of the heat on Arsenal since the humiliation of their Capital One Cup exit against Bradford last Tuesday. It has also allowed them to leapfrog Everton and West Bromwich into fifth in the Premier League and, perhaps most importantly, move to within only two points of Chelsea in third.

Wenger will be especially enthused by some very clear signs that his team are rediscovering the smooth attacking rhythm that has been the traditional hallmark of his teams. Santi Cazorla produced a masterclass with his hat-trick and, in his first proper outing for Arsenal as a central striker, Theo Walcott also delivered a performance of genuine promise.

Arsenal supporters are hardly on safe ground just now to be taunting opposition fans and, within seconds of kick-off last night, their attempts to recall the League Cup success here from 4-0 down was soon drowned out by the painful reminder of Bradford.

Having selected virtually his strongest available team in losing to League Two opposition, Wenger made three changes last night and, significantly, was able to upgrade in three key areas. Mikel Arteta provided extra composure to the midfield while Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added a much needed injection of pace to their attack.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, especially, was immediately impressive, cutting in from Walcott's usual position wide on the right to force a finger-tip save from Adam Federici.

Walcott was understandably less assured in the unfamiliar role of the main central forward and, while he clearly must work on playing with his back to goal, just his presence seemed to force Reading to defend more deeply.

The opening goal, however, was to come from another player who sees himself as the long-term answer in Robin van Persie's old position.

With Walcott also lurking in the penalty area, Lukas Podolski delivered a perfectly timed run into Reading's penalty area to first control Kieran Gibbs' cross and then, in one quick movement, direct a finish past Federici.

The goal lifted a weight off Arsenal's shoulders and, having survived good chances for Jobi McAnuff and Noel Hunt, they produced their most sustained period of incisive attacking football this season.

Cazorla shot narrowly wide with his first sight of goal before finding his range twice in three minutes. With Shaun Cummings struggling badly at right-back, Podolski broke into space down the left to again dissect Reading's defence with shocking ease.

Cazorla had anticipated the cross, evading Adrian Mariappa with his darting run before sending a low header past Federici.

Arsenal were aided by more woeful defending as they added their third. The source of the goal was again Reading's right flank as Gibbs drifted into the penalty area and headed back across goal, allowing Cazorla to control the ball before spinning to volley past Federici.

Only 34 minutes had elapsed but some Reading fans were already heading for the exit as further chances came and went for Arsenal.

Walcott looked increasingly confident through the middle, twice forcing further saves from Federici. It was, though, further excellence from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski that presented the chance from which Cazorla gratefully put Arsenal four goals clear. That appeared to be the end of the match as a contest but, at their moment of greatest dominance, the vulnerabilities of Arsenal were evident again.

Jay Tabb allowed Adam Le Fondre to get behind Arsenal's back four and calmly round Wojciech Szczesny. Then Wenger's nerves were further tested when Jimmy Kebe found space and shot calmly inside the post.

Arsenal's wobble was corrected by Walcott who capped an impressive performance by cutting inside, collecting a clever pass from Cazorla and side-footing past Federici.

For Reading, there was some consolation to be taken from a spirited second-half performance if not a sixth consecutive defeat. The boos that had greeted the half-time whistle were also replaced by polite, if slightly resigned, applause by the final whistle. The Impossible Dream had been played over the tannoy before the match and, on this evidence, that pretty much sums up Reading's survival hopes.


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