By Wayne Veysey at the Madejski Stadium
Arsenal did not manage to score seven on this occasion but thumped Reading 5-2 in another goal-fest between these two sides at the Madejski Stadium.
A Santi Cazorla hat-trick and a Lukas Podolski strike put Arsene Wenger’s team four goals clear at the hour mark with football that was irresistible at times.
But there is a fragility to this Arsenal side and Reading pulled it back to 4-2 after 71 minutes through Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe strikes, which was enough to generate nerves in the visitors’ camp.
But Theo Walcott, who was given a rare opportunity in the central striking role, finished off Reading’s brief comeback with the seventh goal of the game and his 11th of a stop-start season.
It helped Arsenal claim all three points and leapfrog Norwich City, West Brom and Everton into fifth position in the Premier League and quieten the talk of crisis following the dismal Capital One Cup exit at League Two Bradford City.
Reading remain bottom of the Premier League on nine points, six adrift of 17th placed Southampton, and already look down and out.
Following the 12-goal Capital One Cup thriller at this stadium last month, few expected another scoring bonanza but, once again, there was plenty to warm a chilly Berkshire evening.
Arsenal cut Reading’s defence open at will during a first-half display that began nervously for the visitors but soon developed into a cakewalk.
The best early opportunities fell to Reading’s Noel Hunt and Pavel Pogrebnyak, starting his first game for the club since October 27, but Wenger’s team then took control with Podolski’s goal after 14 minutes and never looked like relinquishing it.
The German has symptomized Arsenal’s indifferent recent form but he took his goal with great assurance, firstly killing Kieran Gibbs’ cross with a velvet touch and then thumping past Adam Federici with his left foot.
The generosity of the home side’s defending was apparent in the space afforded to Podolski and it was to become the theme of the evening, as the visitors set about eagerly dispelling the negativity surrounding the club.
Walcott’s finish failed to match the timing of his run in the 25th minute when through on goal but fans’ favourite Cazorla doubled his team’s advantage shortly after the half-hour mark.
The Spaniard may have been the smallest man on the park, but, so static was the home side’s defence, that he was able to easily nod in Podolski’s beautiful curled cross.
Three minutes later, Cazorla scored his second and Arsenal’s third, greedibly gobbling up Gibbs’ second assist of the match with a swivelled shot following fine work from Walcott on the right.
At this stage, a second consecutive seven-goal haul at the Madejski Stadium did not look beyond Arsenal.
Cazorla became only the third Spaniard, after Fernando Torres and Jordi Gomez, to score a Premier League hat-trick when he finished off a sublime passing move at the hour mark.
Le Fondre netted what appeared to be merely a consolation goal after 66 minutes when he took advantage of Gibbs’ abject pass but a few hearts among the 2,000-strong travelling support may have skipped a beat when Kebe stroked a composed second past Wojciech Szczesy.
Walcott calmed Arsenal nerves with the last goal of the game after 80 minutes. With his contract situation still up in the air, it ended a comeback but started a whole new debate.