- Reading 2-5 Arsenal, Premier League
Santi delivers early present for Arsenal
Santi Cazorla was the hat-trick hero as Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 5-2 away victory against Reading on Monday evening.
Still reeling from the defeat to Bradford in the Capital One Cup last week, the Gunners moved within two points of fourth place in the Premier League table with the win at the Madejski Stadium - easing the pressure on Arsene Wenger and his players.
The win was not as comfortable as it could have been, however, after Podolski and Cazorla (thrice) had put the north London club 4-0 up with just an hour gone. Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe then scored within five minutes of each other to set up a potentially entertaining final 20 minutes - but Theo Walcott, given a chance in the central striking role he craves, fired home expertly with 10 minutes remaining to belatedly secure all three points.
The result elevates Arsenal to fifth on goal difference, while Reading remain rooted to the bottom of the table, six points from safety.
Manager Arsene Wenger opted to start Walcott as his central striker and, in a sign of what was to come, the visitors were quickly on the offensive. Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tested Royals keeper Adam Federici with a rasping drive after barely a minute.
Walcott then tried his luck with a 25-yard free-kick which bent around the wall, but also wide of the far post.
Reading forced an opening on 12 minutes when Pavel Pogrebnyak broke down the right past Kieran Gibbs and pulled the ball back across the six-yard box, but Jobi McAnuff's shot was blocked. Royals striker Noel Hunt then headed over from a corner as the hosts pressed again.
Arsenal were ahead on 14 minutes. Gibbs pushed forwards down the left channel and clipped the ball through to Podolski, who expertly took the bounce in his stride to leave two defenders trailing in his wake before smashing a left-foot shot past the keeper.
The Gunners were now full of confidence, as midfielder Cazorla cracked a 20-yard effort just wide. Walcott sprinted clear onto a pass from the Spaniard, but Federici was out quickly to close down the angle and make a smart save with his legs.
Jack Wilshere's shot into the ground was then pushed behind by the busy Reading keeper.
However, it needed a superb clearing tackle by Arsenal skipper Thomas Vermaelen to get the ball away from in front of his own goal after a break by Pogrebnyak down the left.
It was 2-0 on 32 minutes. This time Podolski turned provider as the German charged down the left channel before chipping the ball back through the six-yard box where Cazorla arrived to head past Federici.
Before the Royals could mount any sort of fightback, Arsenal were 3-0 up on 35 minutes.
Walcott's cross from the right was nodded back by Gibbs and Cazorla, with his back to goal, turned to hook the ball into the bottom corner.
There was, though, some concern for Arsenal when Wilshere was left in a heap after being caught in the groin by McAnuff's boot, which saw the Reading captain cautioned by referee Anthony Taylor. The Gunners midfielder was able to continue, however.
Federici produced a brilliant save to palm away Walcott's flying header as Arsenal went close to further extending their lead before half-time.
Walcott split the Reading defence again with a burst of pace at the start of the second half, latching onto an angled ball into the right side of the penalty area from Wilshere, before cutting the ball back goalwards, which Adrian Mariappa hacked off the line.
The Royals defence was breached again on the hour as Cazorla grabbed his hat-trick, drilling the ball in at the far post after Wilshere had released Podolski down the left.
The home fans at least had something to cheer on 66 minutes when Le Fondre pulled a goal back when he was played in by Jay Tabb after the midfielder had latched onto a stray pass from Gibbs. Le Fondre sprinted clear following Wilshere's slip to round Wojciech Szczesny and net.
Reading closed further with 20 minutes left when Kebe slotted home after beating the offside trap from a pass by Hal Robson-Kanu.
Hopes of a remarkable comeback were dashed with 10 minutes left, however, when Walcott was released into the right side of the penalty area by Cazorla, and the England midfielder stepped back inside before slotting a curling effort into the far corner.
Substitute Olivier Giroud was denied a sixth in stoppage time when Federici made a smart block at the edge of his area.