This was like old times for Arsenal. The opposition were inferior but they swatted them aside with a ruthless attacking swagger to drink in a much needed tonic. The trauma of the Capital One Cup exit at League Two Bradford City demanded a response and it was forthcoming.
It would not quite be the current Arsenal crop without a wobble and, four goals to the good, they conceded twice as Reading threatened to paint the scoreline with a veneer of respectability. Or, even, to hint at the unthinkable. Arsène Wenger joked, somewhat darkly, that he had seen the morning headlines coming.
It was never going to be one of those nights. Santi Cazorla was in a league of his own, plundering a hat-trick to twist the blood of his opponents and he had support from Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Walcott, given the central striking role he craves, got the goal that his persistence and threat merited late on and Wenger heard the vocal travelling hoards urge him to secure the England player to a new contract. Lukas Podolski also chipped in with a goal and two assists as Arsenal's frontline bristled with pace, movement and creativity. Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, marvelled at Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta, together with Cazorla. The menace came from all areas.
It was too much for Reading. The angst and the misery that Arsenal had endured post-Bradford belonged to them. Last season's Championship winners will return whence they came if they continue to defend like this. Arsenal endured nervous moments at the back but, compared with their opponents, they resembled Italian catenaccio specialists. It was excruciating to watch Reading in the first half, when Arsenal found such space that it felt like a training-ground exercise. The visitors could conceivably have led by five or six at the interval.
Nobody had known what to expect from Arsenal at kick-off time, as Wenger's team have become impossible to second guess, even against opposition at the foot of the table, who had entered on a run of five straight defeats. Arsenal's previous visit to this ground, the 7-5 Capital One Cup comeback win, stood as a monument to their wild side. Yet from the early going there had been a different feel about this temperate night in Berkshire, on a perfect pitch and in front of a placid crowd, as opposed to the other extremes in Bradford.
Reading were the most accommodating of hosts, allowing Arsenal to settle and take charge and, for an hour, the contest between Cazorla & co and the Reading backline was, frankly, a grotesque mismatch.
McDermott's men showed why they have kept only one clean sheet this season as they stood back and watched Podolski dart in to take Kieran Gibbs's left-wing cross, steady himself and dispatch the opening goal from close range. It was far from their only festive gift. Arsenal strolled through Reading seemingly at will.
Walcott streaked through on to the irrepressible Cazorla's pass but he could not beat Adam Federici one-on-one and Wilshere drew a save from the Reading goalkeeper before Arsenal went further ahead, with a stooping close-range header from Cazorla. The room that he was afforded beggared belief, as did the ease with which Podolski beat Shaun Cummings to cross.
Cazorla scored again when Gibbs returned Walcott's deep cross into the danger area and Cazorla took a touch, spun and smuggled a shot through Jay Tabb's legs without feeling a challenge. To call the defending statuesque would be an insult to statues. Oxlade-Chamberlain met Bacary Sagna's cross to further test Federici's reflexes and the half-time whistle was greeted by boos from the home support.
McDermott changed his shape, thickening up in midfield but Arsenal continued to pour on the agony. Walcott was denied by a miraculous goalline clearance by Adrian Mariappa and, with Cazorla pulling out the party tricks, it appeared to be a question of how deeply Reading would be buried. Cazorla's hat-trick goal came coated in all of the simplicity of what had gone before; Wilshere fed Podolski, the German crossed low and Cazorla rolled home. When Walcott had another effort repelled by Federici, the Arsenal fans goaded their rivals, reminding them that the humiliation was being broadcast live.
Belatedly, Reading found heart and aggression. They got closer to their opponents and McDermott's changes made a difference. Gibbs played a loose ball that allowed Tabb to play in the substitute Adam le Fondre; he rounded Wojciech Szczesny to finish. Shortly afterwards, another substitute, Hal Robson-Kanu, released Jimmy Kébé, who produced another assured finish.
The thought occurred briefly that a third Reading goal could spark the mother of all Arsenal meltdowns. But it drifted away when Walcott took Cazorla's pass to strike the final blow. Arsenal rarely do things the easy way. This was as close as they will come.