Arsenal ripped Reading 5-2 on Monday night in what amounted to a feelgood Premier League victory for England's most famous in-crisis club. Apart from warming weary Gooner hearts, the match also dredged up a number of themes—good and bad—that have defined the team all season.
Santi Cazorla shined, bagging a hat trick, an assist and a perfect 10.0 rating at WhoScored.com. When Santi's been on this season, so have Arsenal, and Monday might have been his most "on" performance yet.
Lukas Podolski pounded home a powerful goal and grabbed two more assists. Theo Walcott, deployed in the central role he desires so publicly, capped off the scoring and killed off the inevitable Reading fightback. Gervinho, meanwhile, remained safely on the bench.
But for all the positivity, concerns crept in.
While the attack sizzled, the defense sent supporters into shivering fits. Even before two sloppy mistakes allowed Reading back into the match in the second half, an alarming string of lapses nearly unlocked Arsenal multiple times in the first.
With the match still scoreless, Pavel Pogrebnyak burst unchecked behind the back line and found Jobi McAnuff with a pinpoint cross. McAnuff's shot was blocked, but the move hinted at the carelessness Arsenal would display after the break.
With the score still 1-0, Pogrebnyak ran free again, this time on the left, before Thomas Vermaelen cut out his low cross at the last moment. Then came dual defensive errors, without which it just wouldn't have been a real Arsenal match.
In between all the boo-boos, the miniature Cazorla's magic was more than enough to ensure there was no 12-goal repeat. But against such a poor Reading squad, there shouldn't have been any question.
And so, as Arsenal claim their season's second two-match winning streak and climb back within two points of their top-four birthright, an emptiness remains. Jack Wilshere is set to sign a new long-term deal (via Sky Sports), but Theo Walcott's comments afterwards suggested he's not ready to do the same.
Walcott: "Talks are ongoing but it's going to take a long time. These things take a long time". Pfff, as Jack shows it doesn't!— arseblog (@arseblog) December 17, 2012
And instead of toasting a thrilling win, Wenger is facing questions of contracts and inconsistency. Fortunately for him, the immediate future presents plenty of chances for his team to do the talking. By the time New Year's Day is complete, Arsenal will have played four more times, all four against bottom-half clubs.
Win all four and the old Arsenal might just be the new one too. Drop more points and Wenger might wish the Mayans had been right.
Of course, doing a little of both might be the most consistent thing Arsenal have done all season.