Arsenal 4 Reading 1
LONDON // Reading have a new manager but no new hope. If Nigel Adkins did not already have one eye on a campaign next season to regain Premier League status, he surely does now.
Arsenal outplayed his side with almost laughable ease, enjoying so much time on the ball at times they may as well have been playing against training cones.
Training cones, however, would retain their shape and not give away soft fouls. In three games this season, Arsenal scored 16 goals against the shambles of the Reading defence. With Wigan Athletic beating Norwich City, the gap to safety stands at eight points.
"It was always going to be challenging," Adkins said. "We'll analyse the game, debrief the players, take lessons and work very hard on the training ground. That's going to be the process for the rest of the season.
"They're used to playing a way of football and I may want to change that and you can't do that straight away. I know the spirit's there. We've got to stay in the here and now and the here and now is to earn the lessons from this game."
Adkins made only minor changes to the side that had lost gallantly 1-0 at Manchester United, Pavel Pogrebnyak returning after suspension for Noel Hunt up front, while Danny Guthrie came in for Garath McCleary in midfield.
The truth is that Reading do not have many options and only a handful of those they do have are of Premier League quality.
Doom is not written any larger than a match-winning performance from Gervinho, who scored one and set up two in what was arguably his best performance for Arsenal.
The Ivorian has become a much-mocked figure at Emirates Stadium, which is understandable, if a little cruel. He is hugely talented but is often nominated as one of the mentally weakest players to have played in the Premier League. Give him a decision to make and he will get it wrong; give his head the opportunity to drop and it will.
Still, when he is not demoralised and when he has no time to think, he does pose a serious threat. It was his dart and pass to Olivier Giroud that led to the first goal. Although Giroud was dispossessed, the ball broke to Santi Cazorla, and Gervinho stayed onside long enough to slam the ball into an unguarded net.
Later in the half he fluffed a header from a Cazorla cross, duffed a shot wide having run from inside his own half and scuffed a chance over after a jinking run, but that is all part of the package.
In a game that was almost tedious in its one-sidedness, his combination of pratfalls and successes at least made it watchable.
It was Gervinho who teed up the second goal, three minutes into the second half, taking a pass from Cazorla and then rolling the ball back for the Spaniard to arc the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
And then he led a breakaway, held the ball up intelligently and teed up Giroud to pummel a third. When he was withdrawn, with 15 minutes remaining, he was afforded an unlikely but wholly deserved standing ovation.
"Gervinho's performance was very strong and he was always dangerous; it looked always like he could score and he gave assists," said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager.
"I believe overall Gervinho had lost confidence because he played in a negative atmosphere. It's important for a striker, and with him even more so because he's always taking the ball forwards.
"He's a type of player who's difficult to find."
Hal Robson-Kanu pulled one back with a brave back-post header but there was never any prospect of a comeback.
Mikel Arteta made it 4-1 from the penalty spot after the substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been tripped by Adrian Mariappa.
It might have been just outside the penalty area but it was Arsenal's third decent penalty shout of the afternoon.
Arsenal had 26 attempts on goal; a more ruthless side could have made it truly embarrassing for Reading.
As it is, they look doomed anyway.
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