Gervinho inspires Arsenal's 4-1 Reading rout

LONDON (AFP) - Ivory Coast striker Gervinho inspired Arsenal to a 4-1 demolition of struggling Reading on Saturday as the Gunners boosted their chances of qualifying for the Champions League for the 16th successive season.

Gervinho scored the first at the Emirates Stadium and had a hand in second half goals for Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud on his first Premier League start since December.

Hal Robson-Kanu pulled one back for Reading in Nigel Adkins' first match since taking over as Royals manager, but Mikel Arteta's late penalty condemned the visitors to defeat and saw them drop below Queens Park Rangers to the foot of the table.

There was even better news for Arsenal from Southampton, where Chelsea's 2-1 defeat meant the fifth placed Gunners are now just two points outside the top four.

After successive victories over Bayern Munich and Swansea, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger kept faith with goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and recalled Aaron Ramsey, Bacary Sagna, Gervinho and Tomas Rosicky to his starting line-up.

Adkins only made two changes from predecessor Brian McDermott's last game in charge, with Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie both included.

Reading had lost their last six in all competitions, but began brightly, forcing a corner that Alex Pearce nodded two yards wide of Fabianski's far post.

Arsenal were content to keep possession in the opening exchanges, but came alive after a minute's applause in tribute to former midfielder David Rocastle, who died of cancer on March 31, 2001.

Gervinho was the architect in the 11th minute as he turned Nicky Shorey on the right touchline and fed Giroud inside the penalty area.

Pearce managed to clear but only as far as Cazorla on the edge of the box and his pinpoint cross picked out Gervinho to side-foot home.

Giroud thought he should have had a penalty when he was felled in the box by Reading goalkeeper Stuart Taylor but referee Chris Foy waved away the protests.

A bursting run from Gervinho that took him from his own half into the opposition penalty area should have ended in at least a shot on target but again his finishing let him down.

Reading then had a lucky escape when the ball appeared to strike Mikele Leigertwood's hand following a corner and Foy failed to award the penalty.

Seven minutes before the break, Cazorla had a golden opportunity for Arsenal to score the second goal that their build-up play deserved but his left-footed strike missed by a matter of inches.

Gervinho also wasted a great chance just before the break to leave Wenger frustrated on the touchline.

Any concerns that Arsenal may live to rue those missed opportunities evaporated two minutes after the break.

Gervinho's short pass into the feet of Cazorla gave the Spaniard time to pick his spot and he unleashed a perfect curling shot from the edge of the penalty area that left Taylor grasping at thin air.

A superbly-timed tackle from Laurent Koscielny then denied Pogrebnyak the opening to register Reading's first shot on target.

Pearce managed that from the resulting corner but his volley was comfortably held by Fabianski.

A simple finish from Giroud after another quick break from Gervinho made it 3-0 in the 67th minute.

However, Reading continued to fight for everything and they got their reward less than 90 seconds later when Jobi McAnuff picked out Robson-Kanu to head in.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on for the final 15 minutes and the England youngster had an immediate impact.

A clumsy challenge from Adrian Mariappa finally saw Foy point to the spot, with Spanish midfielder Arteta slotting home.