Arsène Wenger praised his Arsenal players for summoning the spirit to bounce back from their "super-crisis" as they responded to their Capital One Cup humbling at League Two Bradford City to beat Reading 5-2 in the Premier League.

Santi Cazorla was the star turn with a stunning hat-trick on a night when Theo Walcott was finally given the opportunity he has requested for years to play as the lead central striker. The desire for assurances about doing so has been a factor in his contract talks with the club, which have been deadlocked for months.

Arsenal have only ever tasted victory in away matches against Reading and there was a priceless quality to the win they collected here, which lifted them to within two points of the Champions League places. The club's highs and lows have come to feel dramatically pronounced.

"Our game is based on movement and technical quality and that demands freedom of initiative and, when you are in a crisis, that suffers sometimes," Wenger said. "But we have to go beyond that and focus on the way we play football. Have we been in crisis? It depends on what you mean by a crisis. If you call it being slaughtered by everybody, then we were in super-crisis.

"In any bad thing, there is a good thing and you discover who is strong and who can remain united. In our job, you have to be mentally strong. It is a test when you have been in a position like we were in. I would just say that in 16 years we have only lost one time against a lower division team and our record bears comparison to any team in England. We were very unhappy and disillusioned but there is only one answer to give and that is in the next game."

Wenger forgot the 2008 Carling Cup exit to Burnley, who were in the Championship, but it was easy to forgive him after another night of emotion. Arsenal faltered briefly when Reading came back from 4-0 to 4-2, although a failure to win would have set new standards in the outlandish.

"At 4-2, I saw your headlines coming," Wenger said. "Fortunately, we scored a fifth goal [through Walcott]. We were under a lot of tension before the game and at 4-0 we thought, subconsciously, it was done. We had a wobbly period and we became a bit uncertain. We lost our focus and we paid for it. But it was important to play our football."

Wenger said that he had decided to start Walcott through the middle after watching him train well in the role and considering the "timing of his movement".

"For his first game [there], he did well," the manager added. "There were very encouraging signs up front."

Walcott's contract expires at the end of the season but Wenger suggested that the ball was in the player's court and he restated his desire to keep him. "It's not my decision, it's his decision as well," Wenger said. "If it's my decision, it's quickly done. We have a good core of English players. We could not keep the core of foreign players [at the club] but I hope we can build a team around these English players. We have gone through a period of restricted financial potential when we moved into the new stadium but we have gone over that and, hopefully, we can be a bit more convincing now."

Walcott said that talks were "ongoing" and he hoped that "something will happen soon". He was more lucid when talking about on-field matters. "We know it hasn't been good enough in recent weeks but we showed people the true Arsenal," he said.

"We conceded some disappointing goals but, going forward, we looked very strong. I enjoy playing up front; it's just having some more opportunities. I thought I did very well but the players around me made my job so much easier."

The midfielder Jack Wilshere said: "I think we showed the old Arsenal tonight. We need to continue that. We try not to take any notice of the criticism. If we can get three points at Wigan on Saturday, then we can push on."