Reading vs. Arsenal: Grading the Gunners
After crashing out of the Capital One Cup against Bradford City, Arsenal were in urgent need of a boost, and this comfortable victory over Reading provided it. The fixture list had been kind to Arsenal: after two defeats in their last three games, they found themselves up against the side who had just displaced QPR at the bottom of the Premier League table.
It's easy to see how they've ended up there: as of Sunday night, no side has conceded more goals in the league this season. Arsenal took full advantage of a vulnerable defence and restored a good deal of confidence.
The result takes Arsenal up into the fifth place, and incredibly, despite the gloom that surrounds the club, they now sit just two points behind third-place Chelsea.
Click through to see how the defence, midfield and attack fared in the latest Madejski goal-fest.
GK Wojciech Szczesny (6/10)
Despite the fact that Arsenal managed to concede two goals, Wojciech Szczesny spent the majority of the game relatively untroubled. He couldn't have done much about either goal.
In the case of Adam Le Fondre's strike, I thought Szczesny did well to stand up and not commit himself for as long as he did. Le Fondre, however, showed his fabulous finishing ability to get round the big Pole. It would be churlish to fault Szczesny himself.
DR Bacary Sagna (7/10)
Bacary Sagna is, alongside Mikel Arteta, one of the most consistent and professional players at Arsenal Football Club. This was yet another game in which he put in a very honest shift, topped off by a fantastic cross-field pass in the build-up to Santi Cazorla's first goal.
CB Per Mertesacker (5/10)
Per Mertesacker has been Arsenal's most reliable centre-back this season, but in this game he was caught out by the run of Jimmy Kebe for Reading's second goal.
During that 10-minute period in which the Royals scored twice, Arsenal were wobbling, and Mertesacker looked more like the uncertain figure he occasionally resembled in his first season at Arsenal.
CB Thomas Vermaelen (5/10)
Although untroubled for long periods, Thomas Vermaelen's second-half performance saw some bad habits creep back in to his game. He is occasionally too eager to win the ball early, allowing him to be easily turned.
When Reading turned the screw, he seemed perturbed, which isn't what you're looking for from your captain.
DL Kieran Gibbs (8/10)
For a full-back to pick up two assist in a single game is some achievement. Kieran Gibbs' marauding runs down the left have made him integral to this Arsenal team, and when his partnership with Lukas Podolski on that flank clicks, it can be lethal.
The only reason he doesn't score higher is that it was his misplaced cross-field pass that led directly to Reading's first goal.
CM Mikel Arteta (7/10)
It is very rare that Mikel Arteta will ever score less than a seven in an Arsenal shirt. He is their "Mr. Consistency," and it was telling that he was almost the sole absentee from their first-choice XI in the side who went out to Bradford last week.
Against Reading, his metronomic presence was crucial in allowing more attacking players to take control of the game.
CM Jack Wilshere (7/10)
Jack Wilshere had a couple of very bright moments, the most impressive of which was a sumptuous pass in the build-up to Santi Cazorla's hat-trick goal. However, there was also a needless booking and his part in Le Fondre's goal to temper his score.
AM Santi Cazorla (10/10)
It is hard to fault Cazorla's performance in this game. Not only did he score a hat-trick (including the very rare sight of him netting with a header), but he also secured an assist for Theo Walcott. This was a masterful display.
Simply put, he was far too good for the Reading defence to deal with.
RW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (7/10)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may not have had a single defining moment against Reading, but his role in the side should not be underestimated. His movement and willingness to run both inside and outside his full-back was integral in keeping the Royals on the back-foot.
I, for one, hope he isn't displayed by the erratic Gervinho any time soon.
CF Theo Walcott (8/10)
Theo Walcott finally got his chance as a central striker, and he'll be delighted to have capped it with a goal. Like Oxlade-Chamberlain, his movement off the ball was a constant menace and added a fluidity to our play that the less mobile Olivier Giroud sometimes fails to provide. It was a neat finish too on his weaker left foot.
LW Lukas Podolski (9/10)
It was Podolski who began the rout with a typically neat finish, giving him his fifth league goal of the season. However, he added to that with two excellent crosses to provide assists for Santi Cazorla.
Podolski can seemingly be on the fringes of a game for long periods, but when provided an opportunity to make a telling contribution, he rarely disappoints. Unfortunately, however, he did play Kebe onside for Reading's second goal—although at least he had attempted to track back!
What did you make of Arsenal's players against Reading? Have your say below.