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Mar 30, 2013

Arsenal wins to keep up in race for 4th

Arsenal kept up the pressure in the race for Champions League qualification with a 4-1 win over Reading at Emirates Stadium on Saturday that sent the Royals to bottom of the Premier League.

Ivory Coast international Gervinho set the Gunners on their way with a goal after 11 minutes.

However, despite dominating possession, it was not until the start of the second half where the crucial breakthrough came again, this time Santi Cazorla sweeping home. Olivier Giroud added a third following a quick break by Gervinho.

Hal Robson-Kanu headed in a consolation for Nigel Adkins' men -- the manager in charge for the first time -- but there was to be no recovery as Mikel Arteta's penalty made sure Arsenal closed up on Chelsea in the race for the fourth spot and also remained within striking distance of Tottenham, on whom Arsenal holds a match in hand.

Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny both had to be content with a place on the bench, while Adkins made two changes in his first match in charge, as striker Pavel Pogrebnyak returned from suspension and Danny Guthrie also came in to midfield.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed the confident display of Gervinho.

"Gervinho's performance was very strong. He was always dangerous, always looked like he could score, gave assists and scored himself," Wenger said. "I believe that sometimes Gervinho has lost confidence because he played in a very negative atmosphere during a period. Strikers need confidence, and [with] his game, even more. He was always taking the ball and going forward, and provoking. When you lose confidence, that is a very dangerous game then.

"When he has found the confidence back, he's a very dangerous player."

Reading -- which squandered a 4-0 lead against Arsenal in its home League Cup tie earlier this season -- started positively, as Mikele Leigertwood headed wide from a corner.

On seven minutes, there were chants and applause in memory of former Arsenal and England midfielder David Rocastle, who 12 years ago Sunday lost his battle against cancer aged 33.

The home fans were soon on their feet again on 11 minutes as Gervinho fired Arsenal into an early lead.

Gervinho turned on the edge of the penalty area, before feeding Giroud. The ball broke to Cazorla out on the left, and his low center was swept into the roof of the net, past former Arsenal trainee Stuart Taylor.

The hosts continued to press and fit-again right-back Bacary Sagna floated a ball into the Reading box, which Gervinho could not guide on target with a cushioned header.

Arsenal felt it had a penalty shout as Giroud was clattered by Taylor -- who collected a championship winners' medal with Arsenal in 2002 -- after hooking the ball over the keeper, but referee Chris Foy was not convinced.

Gervinho was in full flow again on 22 minutes, charging to the edge of the area as the Reading defense back-tracked, only to then drag his shot wide.

The one-way traffic continued, as Cazorla clipped the side-netting with an angled shot from close range.

Gervinho remained lively, creating space with some neat footwork in the penalty area before shooting over.

Arsenal sensed it needed the cushion of a second goal, and it came just after the restart.

Gervinho was again involved on 48 minutes as the ball was worked to the edge of the Reading penalty area, where Cazorla curled an exquisite effort around the defender and inside Taylor's left-hand post.

It was now a case of damage limitation for Adkins' men, who looked set to end the day bottom of the table and, barring a minor miracle, heading for a swift return to the Championship.

To its credit, Reading continued to look for a way back into the match as Laurent Koscielny needed to make a last-ditch tackle on Pogrebnyak.

Arsenal made it 3-0 on 67 minutes, with Gervinho again the creator.

The Ivory Coast forward latched onto a chip from Sagna to canter away down the right and to the edge of the box, before feeding Giroud, who dispatched a low strike back across goal.

Arsenal switched off, which allowed Reading to pull a goal back as Jobi McAnuff's floated cross from the left was headed in at the far post by Robson-Kanu -- with full back Nacho Monreal clattering into the woodwork.

The Spaniard, so impressive since his January deadline move from Monreal, was replaced by Kieran Gibbs, who had been laid low by a virus this week.

With 15 minutes left, Arsenal made a double change as Gervinho went off to a standing ovation as he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and fit-again German forward Lukas Podolski came on for Giroud.

England midfielder Oxlade-Chamberlain was soon in the thick of the action, latching onto a loose pass from Adrian Mariappa before charging into the penalty area, where he was clipped by the Reading defender. This time, Foy did point to the spot, even if initial contact looked to be outside the box.

Mikel Arteta, captain again in Vermaelen's absence, made no mistake from 12 yards as Arsenal chalked up a sixth win in the past eight league games.

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