Full time: Reading 2-5 Arsenal
Well, apart from the brain-freeze midway through the second half that led to two Reading goals, Arsene Wenger could not have asked for more than that from his side. Sure, Reading played like a pub side but their weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed by Arsenal. Especially Santi Cazorla, who scored a hat-trick and set up Theo Walcott's goals. That's two league wins in a row for Arsenal, who go fifth, two points behind Spurs. Reading are bottom. They go to Manchester City on Saturday. Thanks for reading. Bye.
90 min+3: There's time yet for Giroud to break in behind but Federici makes himself big enough to block the lob.
90 min+1: There will be three minutes of stoppage time.
90 min: Suddenly McAnuff is bursting clean through on goal but instead of driving forward or shooting, he tries to take the ball back past Vermaelen, who nicks it off him, much to the annoyance of the home fans.
88 min: Arsenal have had the ball for a while now. Let Reading have the ball, Arsenal!
85 min: Walcott is replaced by Olivier Giroud. "I think that Gervinho is the player that Bebe can grow into, which is a scary thought for both of them!" says Tom Sk.
83 min: Santi Cazorla gets an ovation from everyone inside the ground as he's replaced by Francis Coquelin.
82 min: And now Reading are all over the place again. Cazorla touches it to Podolski on the left and he blasts a shot past the near post.
IT'S OFF!!! Reading 2-5 Arsenal (Walcott, 80 min)
Theo Walcott finally has his goal and that should be that. Cazorla locates him on the right side of the area with a precise pass and Walcott steps inside Gorkss, before guiding a low left-footer smoothly past Federici. Once again, the Arsenal fans implore Wenger to sort out his contract situation.
78 min: Arsenal are trying to kill this off with some straight-up Brendan-style possession. "Regardless of how this finishes, can we get these two to play each other every week?" pleads Mark Gillies. "I'm not sure how that would happen, admittedly. Perhaps you could pull some strings? It'd be goal-tastic."
76 min: Reading have had two shots on target. Arsenal have had 11.
75 min: "I think you make half of the emails up," says Robbert Bronkhorst. I honestly haven't made that one up.
74 min: Arsenal replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Aaron Ramsey.
73 min: Reading are going for it now, but inevitably there are gaps at the back for Arsenal to exploit. Cazorla is sent clear on the right and smashes a shot goalwards. Federici soars to his right to push it away. Meanwhile Jimmy Kebe's last contribution was that goal. He's replaced by Gareth McCleary.
IT'S ON!!! Reading 2-4 Arsenal (Kebe, 71 min)
Oh Arsenal. Surely they couldn't, could they? Robson-Kanu jinks and tricks his way across the area and then slides a pass through to Kebe, played miles onside by a dawdling Arsenal defender, and he strokes a composed shot past Szczesny and into the bottom-right corner.
69 min: Jack Wilshere has taken a few knocks tonight, so it's very strange that he's not been given a rest by now by Wenger.
68 min: "Steak twice this week, huh?" says JR in Illinois. "Sure you win for now, until you need an angioplasty. Me? I'm a vegetarian. Of course I smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish. Maybe I shouldn't talk."
GOAL! Reading 1-4 Arsenal (Le Fondre, 66 min)
It's on! The comeback is on! It's a gift from Arsenal, Gibbs playing an abject pass straight to Tabb, who cleverly played it through for Le Fondre to round Szczesny and score. It's going to be 7-5.
64 min: It goes without saying that there are more goals in this for Arsenal. Wilshere finds Walcott in the area and he cracks in a shot that Federici beats away. He could have had a hat-trick by now.
61 min: Reading replace Noel Hunt and Pavel Pogrebnyak with Adam Le Fondre and Hal Robson-Kanu.
HAT-TRICK GOAL! Reading 0-4 Arsenal (Cazorla, 60 min)
Oh, this is quite magnificent from Arsenal. What a brilliant goal this is, a wonderful, free-flowing, passing move that ends with a third goal of the night for the exceptional Santi Cazorla. Oxlade-Chamberlain darted in from the right and rolled a pass into the path of Wilshere on the edge of the area. He could have shot, but that's not the Arsenal way, and instead prodded a cracking pass through to Podolski on the left. He could have shot, but that's not the Arsenal way, and he found Cazorla who ... well, it was an open goal and by this point it would have been rude not to shoot.
59 min: I'm going to have steak twice this week. I win.
56 min: Walcott is desperate for his goal. He picks up possession on the edge of the area, beats Gorkss with a drop of the shoulder and flashes a shot just wide. Reading have been utterly incapable of handling him – it can't be any coincidence that he's playing through the middle. Whether he can do it against a better side remains to be seen though.
55 min: Arsenal's fans are urging the club to get Walcott to sign a new deal.
53 min: "I actually think Gervinho could develop into a sensational player, but he's another one of these players we have who 'could be good in 5 years.'," says Sacha Brady. "He'll eventually have a really good season, and then demand a 300% pay rise or be allowed to leave." No, this will not happen.
51 min: Santi Cazorla goes so close to scoring his hat-trick. Jack Wilshere plays a pass through the Reading defence - as much it is possible to send a ball through something that doesn't actually exist - for Walcott. He's a tad wide but still forces a low save out of Federici. The ball dribbles towards the line and it seems like a tap-in for Cazorla, but somehow Mariappa and Federici combine to deny him.
50 min: Nothing much has happened yet. "Hmmm, I follow MBMs when possible, I occasionally send in pithy emails, and some of those emails get printed. Does that make me an MBMer?" says Matt Dony. "I don't think I'm comfortable with labels like that. There's so much more to me. Sorry, Rob Smith. I can't be an MBMer."An MBMee.
48 min: Really, it's most uncouth of Reading not to play the darts music when the opposition score.
46 min: Reading's humiliation resumes. Maybe in this half they could try to tackle the Arsenal players instead of standing off and admiring the passes. But Arsenal are straight at them, the Reading defence backing off as Oxlade-Chamberlain charges at them before cracking a shot over from 25 yards out. "With no one there to Gervinho our chances and build up we actually have a team," says Erik Ness. "Had the Gervmeister been assigned not only to the bench, but to the terraces or beyond this would at least be five nothing by now."
Half time: Reading 0-3 Arsenal
Well Arsene Wenger will be happier.
45 min+1: "Do any other MBMers get the joy I get from watching the pre match analysis of what Gary Neville thinks will happen, and then watching it happen," says Rob Smith. "I also get this from MOTD analysis, when I learn that he was disappointed with that, and they should hav defended better, but its not quite the same." Oh yes, he's superb. I record it now.
45 min: There will be one minute of added time.
44 min: If Arsenal keep attacking, this is going to get seriously embarrassing for Reading. Sagna swings in a cross from the right and Walcott's header is clawed away by Federici. How tall is Theo Walcott again? How tall are Gorkss and Mariappa? How can Walcott be getting free headers against those two?
42 min: Arsenal are playing some scintillating stuff at times, although it's like a training match at times. More slick interplay has Reading chasing shadows around their own area as Cazorla is slipped in on the left. He cuts it back to Podolski, whose goalbound left-footer is blocked by the head of a Reading defender. This is inexcusably poor from Reading. They've given up.
40 min: Wilshere limps off for more treatment but he should be fine to continue.
39 min: A worrying sight for Arsenal fans as Wilshere lies prone on the ground, clutching his leg after taking a clattering from McAnuff. He's booked. He protests but to no avail.
38 min: "Please stop saying how easy it is," says Roy Gillet. "This is a team that once went 4 up and threw it away." But enough about Reading.
37 min: Reading are going to win 7-5.
GOAL! Reading 0-3 Arsenal (Cazorla, 34 min)
Reading have a lot of men back but it doesn't mean much if no one's arsed enough put any pressure on the ball. Once again Walcott has all the time in the world to drift a cross from right to left. Gibbs, left all alone by Kebe again, heads it down for Cazorla to swivel and ram it past the helpless Federici. Arsene Wenger's smile grows wider and the boos ring out around the Madjeski Stadium - from the Reading fans who are bothering to stick around for the rest of the match, that is.
34 min: Arsene Wenger has even broken into his first smile since 2009.
GOAL! Reading 0-2 Arsenal (Cazorla, 32 min)
This is so easy for Arsenal. Too easy. Again it's come from a cross from the left. Podolski went past Cummings as if he wasn't there and curled a beautiful cross into the six-yard box where Cazorla, completely unmarked, stooped to head past Federici. No one bothered tracking Cazorla and no one bothered marking him once he got into the area.
29 min: Another half-chance for Reading as a loose ball falls to Kebe, whose low drive from 15 yards out is deflected behind for a corner. From which Arsenal counter again down the left. Walcott clips a lovely ball from left to right for Cazorla and brings it down inside the area, before seeing his low cross back towards Walcott hacked clear.
28 min: And they nearly pay for it instantly as Pogrebnyak beats Arsenal's offside trap and slides the ball into the six-yard box where Vermaelen boots it behind before Hunt or Kebe can smash it home.
26 min: Poor Reading. They are getting an absolute chasing at the moment. Again they're prised open on the left - Kebe is giving Cummings no support at all – as Wilshere plays Podolski in. He's forced a tad wide so fire a low ball into the area. It's only half-cleared as far as Wilshere, whose bouncing volley from 15 yards out is acrobatically tipped over by Federici. Arsenal could pay for missing all these chances.
24 min: "Hard to disagree with your assertion on 16 minutes," says Simon McMahon. "Arsenal could get eight tonight. The Reading defence could not be more comical were they to paint their faces, wear those floppy clown shoes and ride around the box on square wheeled bicycles." I'm genuinely intrigued to see if Arsenal can find a way to mess this game up. They're more than capable of it but they should win this by three or four.
21 min: It should be 2-0 to Arsenal. But it's not 2-0 to Arsenal. Reading, for whatever reason, have decided the best way to combat Theo Walcott is to play a high line. It's not, as Oxlade-Chamberlain dinks a pass over the top for Walcott to scoot off with and do as he pleases. He's clean through on goal and should score, but is denied by an excellent stop with his legs by Federici. That was so simple for Arsenal.
20 min: Arsenal could fill their boots here. They are running riot out wide, for Reading are a complete rabble defensively. Cazorla finds Gibbs in acres of space on the left of the area. He takes too much time though - nosebleed territory – and his shot is blocked. It comes to Podolski, who curls one wide from 18 yards out.
18 min: Cazorla feints to shoot with his left foot, sends Leigertwood skittering off into the distance, and then slams a vicious, swerving effort not too far wide from 25 yards out. Too much swerve, mind you. Less swerve, Santi. You're welcome.
17 min: "Ah, I thought you were wearing the suit in homage to messrs Vilas Boas and Laudrup," says Brian Cloughley. "It reminded me of the the avid championship manager player who put on a suit and shook hands with the doorknob when his team got to a cup final." That's no way to speak about Rob Smyth.
16 min: Reading are going down. It's not a debate.
GOAL! Reading 0-1 Arsenal (Podolski, 14 min)
You're not going to believe this, but Reading have conceded a ludicrously soft goal from a low cross. Gibbs went on a run down the left, without looking particularly threatening. Or so Jimmy Kebe though, the Malian not bothering to put much pressure on the Arsenal left-back. Gibbs's cross wasn't especially good but somehow the Reading defence allowed it come to Podolski, whose excellent touch set him up for a simple finish, which he duly thumped past Federici from close range with his left foot.
13 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain, who looks very bright, plays a one-two with Walcott on the edge of the area but allows his second touch to get away from him. A shame, seeing as he had easily outstripped his marker again.
11 min: Reading are so dangerous from corners, as Manchester United found out recently. Shorey curls one in from the right and Hunt darts from right to left to glance a header inches over the bar. He might feel he should have done better there.
8 min: Dearie me, Arsenal's defence is opened up so easily. Pogrebnyak looks to be going nowhere on the right but a one-two sees him zip in behind the dozing pair of Cazorla and Gibbs and into the area. He could shoot, but instead cuts it back into the six-yard box, where a throng of Reading players are waiting. It falls to McAnuff, though, and his off-balance shot bobbles off-target, before coming back to Pogrebnyak who was offside. From that Arsenal break again, Podolski's shot from the edge of the area blocked. It's a very open start.
7 min: A free-kick to Arsenal around 30 yards from goal, just to the left. The big men from the back trot forward and Walcott goes for goal, bending a decent effort past the far post.
5 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain zips down the right and clips an inviting cross to the far post, where Cummings puts it behind for a corner, which comes to nothing. Podolski made no effort at all to get on the end of that cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
4 min: "On catching up on the weekend's MBMs (I'm not one of those saddoes who spends all day chained to the computer) I was perturbed to read of you wearing a suit to MBM," says Ryan Dunne. "Can you confirm that this is not because you had an interview somewhere else that day? As the MBM-officiator who prints more of my emails than anyone else I think you should make it clear to the Guardian that you're too valuable to lose, and ought to be compensated accordingly!"
Places to be, people to meet, drinks to drink.
2 min: Well, this could be a long evening for Reading. After Arsenal dealt with a cross into their box, they break at their trademark speed, Oxlade-Chamberlain haring through the non-existent Reading midfield. He finds Cazorla whose touch goes back to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose fine low shot from 25 yards out is brilliantly saved by Federici. The rebound comes to Podolski, but he's offside.
Peep! And we're off, Arsenal getting the game underway and attacking from right to left. They're in their red shirts with white sleeves, Reading are in their blue and white hoops. "Strange, I always pictured Leonard Cohen as a Chelsea (Hotel) fan, rather than Arsenal," honks Matt Dony.
Reading are in a huddle. Well that's that settled then. Arsenal don't have a prayer now.
And now the teams are on the pitch. "Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal," bellow the
Reading Arsenal fans. "Wow, Peter Morgan clearly has a lot of time, a lot of imagination and a lot of Lego," says Robin Hazlehurst. "I'm not sure which I'm most jealous of. Nah, I am actually, it's the Lego. Nice film though, however unlikely the storyline may seem these days."
The teams are in the tunnel. They'll be playing football soon!
"It’s my birthday today, so work were kind enough to arrange their Xmas do at the same time," says Leonard Cohen. "Free booze, free swanky meal, and removing me from the frustration of watching Walcott unable to beat Nicky Shorey for the tenth time."
Well, it sure sounds like you work in a great office.
You'll note from the teams that Theo Walcott is playing through the middle for Arsenal - he scored a hat-trick in that League Cup match last month. Unfortunately Gervinho is on the bench. Here's an illustration of what goes on in his head.
"Arsenal supporters need cheering up, so here is a funny animation involving Arsenal and Man Utd in a Lego football match, which I have made to celebrate Christmas," says Peter Morgan.
Top of the evening to you
Sometimes you've got to speculate to accumulate. And allow me to speculate that Arsenal will accumulate if they speculate, rather than spending some fahkin' money leading to financial armageddon. Let's get this straight, financial armageddon is not fun. Arsenal don't want to find themselves doing a Leeds, dropping through the divisions, losing Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh and Andre Santos, before finally ending up with Ken Bates as their chairman. No, Arsenal definitely don't want that. No one wants that. Yet it's surely an insult to the intelligence of supporters for Wenger, Ivan Gazidis and the rest of the board to insist that Arsenal are heading in the right direction simply because they are financially prudent because while the accounts might look rosy, that might well not be the case if, say, they don't finish in the top four this season.
Spending money doesn't automatically lead to success although it sure helps - here's looking at you, Chelsea and Manchester City, two clubs whose riches have gone some way to provoking this crisis in confidence about whether Wenger's methods still work. Of course, Arsenal's faith in youth should be admired and every season there are neutrals who hope that they can finally win something; think of the greatest sides in history, the ones that make you go misty-eyed and weak at the knees, and you think of teams that have grown up together, Ajax's Total Football pioneers, say, or this current Barcelona side. It would be fantastic if such a vision was realised at Arsenal. But at the moment they are a side that loses to League Two Bradford City in the Carling Cup.
Clearly this can't go on and while the solution is not to go out and spend £200m in one summer on a batch of superstars, the half-measures are no longer enough. It is not acceptable to receive so much money for Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and then replace them with Mikel Arteta and Gervinho on the cheap, or assume that Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud combined can compensate for the loss of Robin van Persie. Good players, sure, but Lukas Podolski + Olivier Giroud ≠ Robin van Persie, who dragged Arsenal kicking and screaming into the Champions League on his own last season. None of the players mentioned are useless – they just don't quite cut it at the very highest level, which is where Arsenal aspire to be. Ultimately there's a reason other big clubs weren't interested.
Still Arsenal should be reasonably confident of getting back on track against Reading this evening, on a ground where they have a 100% record. Brian McDermott's side are in a pick-pick-pickle, their form so bad that they're even below QPR. Which means that they're bottom of the league, having only won one of 16 league matches this season. This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone, because this always felt like a promotion that came too early for Reading, who came from nowhere to win the Championship on the back of an absurd run of form which featured a lot of late victories. There's plenty of perspiration there but not much inspiration, a hard-working side without the necessary quality or experience to survive in the Premier League. Or so it seems, anyway. Speculate, accumulate.
There, we got all this way without even mentioning the 7-5. D'oh!
Reading: Federici; Cummings, Gorkss, Mariappa, Shorey; Kebe, Leigertwood, Tabb, McAnuff; Hunt, Pogrebnyak. Subs: Taylor, Gunter,
Pearce, Le Fondre, McCleary, Robson-Kanu, Harte.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski. Subs: Mannone, Koscielny, Rosicky, Giroud, Ramsey, Coquelin, Gervinho.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)