READING 2 vs ARSENAL 5
ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger last night hinted he is ready to play Theo Walcott in his favoured central role more often after the experiment helped his beleaguered team rediscover devastating form.
Midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a hat-trick while Lukas Podolski and Walcott netted the others as the Gunners tore through hapless Reading at pace and climbed to fifth in the Premier League.
Bottom-of-the-table Royals still gave Arsenal a scare when Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe scored within six second-half minutes to make it 4-2, but Walcott’s strike finished the job and pleased Wenger.
“He’s shown ability to play in this position,” he said of contract rebel Walcott, who could leave for free in the summer.
“I believe for his first game he’s done very well in that position. There were very encouraging signs. I felt it was a good opportunity to do it tonight. On what I’ve seen in training, I thought he was ready to do it.”
Wenger’s men scored seven at the Madejski Stadium in the Capital One Cup earlier this season and took just 14 minutes to add another, Podolski deftly killing a Kieran Gibbs cross and lashing in with his next touch.
Cazorla swerved a 25-yard drive narrowly wide, Walcott shot at Federici when clean through and Jack Wilshere’s volley was tipped wide before the Spain midfielder scored twice in four minutes.
First the 5ft 6in star dived to head home Podolski’s left-wing cross; then he turned smartly and fired through a crowd after Gibbs had headed Walcott’s centre back across goal.
Adrian Mariappa’s sliding intervention stopped Walcott’s shot on the line just after half-time, but Cazorla tapped in the fourth, and completed his treble, from Podolski’s cross after a sweeping move on the hour.
Arsenal were cruising, yet Reading stunned them and raised hopes of a comeback with two goals in six minutes, Le Fondre rounding Wojciech Szczesny and then Kebe beating the offside trap and stroking home.
Walcott settled Wenger’s nerves in the 80th minute, however, and crowned his striking audition with a sharp finish, gathering Cazorla’s pass and turning Kaspars Gorkss before steering left-footed past Federici.